Neeskens Kebano delivered the type of virtuoso performance that made his Dutch namesake so famous and kickstarted Fulham’s sluggish season as the Londoners recorded their first win of the new campaign at Portman Road. Ipswich, chasing a club record fifth straight league success at the beginning of the new season, were cut down to size as the Congolese winger scored one and made another to inflict a first defeat on Mick McCarthy’s high-fliers.
Slavisa Jokanovic has looked frazzled and frustrated in equal measure this month – no more so than when his youthful second string were dumped out of the League Cup by League One Bristol Rovers on Tuesday – but some of Fulham’s flowing football would have made even the notoriously tough to please Serbian purr. The visitors were back to something approaching their best and should have been out of sight in the first twenty minutes as their precise passing pulled McCarthy’s men apart but a lack of ruthlessness in the final third meant parity was retained until ten minutes before the break.
Sheyi Ojo, offered a first start in place of the absent Sone Aluko, had a shot deflected wide and then saw a venomous strike beaten away by Bartosz Bialkowski, who also produced a superb reflex save to deny Stefan Johansen from point blank range after the Norwegian had raced onto Kebano’s clever backheel. At times, Ipswich seemed unable to cope with Fulham’s pace and movement, but the hosts almost went ahead in fortuitous circumstances. Martyn Waghorn’s deflected shot had David Button beaten but dropped the wrong side of the post.
Fulham still offered the greater threat going forward and finally got their deserved lead when Ryan Fredericks surged down the right flank and stood a floated cross up to the far post where Kebano soared to superbly head home his first goal of the season. Rui Fonte almost made it two four minutes later when he showed brilliant agility to direct a Ryan Sessegnon cross towards goal despite it seemingly being behind him but the Portuguese forward was denied a first goal for his new club by the near post.
Ipswich might still have gone in at the break level however only for David McGoldrick to shoot tamely at Button having seized on a sloppy back pass from Kevin McDonald when passing to two unmarked team-mates to his right seemed like a better option. Such an outcome would have hardly reflected Fulham’s first half dominance but would have been entirely in keeping with how an unforgiving August had left Jokanovic’s side looking badly hangover from last term’s heroics.
McCarthy’s men began the second half at a higher tempo as they sought a route back into the contest. Joe Garner’s header from a set play was gathered by Button on his goal-line and any hopes the Tractor Boys held of a revival were swiftly extinguished five minutes into the second period. The goal saw Kebano to the fore again, superbly turning his man after being fed by Johansen and dispatching a curling shot towards the top corner that Bialkowski did brilliantly to parry, only for Fonte to follow up and fire home from the tightest of angles. It was a predatory goal that showed just why the Whites had been keen to meet Braga’s £8m asking price – and gave Jokanovic’s side a cushion they never looked like relinquishing.
The closest Ipswich came to scoring in the remainder of the contest was when Button held a drive from McGoldrick after the forward Ipswich had stripped Fredericks of possession but Fulham’s patient passing triangles, with the returning Tom Cairney and Johansen to the fore, drew any venom out of the hosts’ isolated attacks. This was the sort of disciplined away performance that should settle any nerves about the Cottagers’ indifferent start ahead of the international break – and Kebano delivered a timely reminder to his head coach of his own capabilities.
IPSWICH TOWN (4-4-2): Bialkowski; Iorfa, Kenlock, Spence, Knudsen; Skuse, Ward (Nydam 90), Sears (Celina 59), Waghorn (Downes 59); McGoldrick, Garner. Subs (not used): Gerken, Rowe, Folami, Woolfenden.
FULHAM (4-3-3): Button; Fredericks, R. Sessegnon, Kalas, Ream; McDonald, Johansen (Odoi 88), Cairney; Ojo, Kebano (Norwood 82), Fonte (Kamara 76). Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Djalo, Edun, Cisse.
GOALS: Kebano (35), Fonte (51).
REFEREE: Paul Tierney (Wigan).