It was perhaps a lot tenser than it should have been after Stefan Johansen’s sweet strike, but Fulham clung on to claim their second away success in four days at Loftus Road and move to within a point of the Championship play-off positions. Slavisa Jokanovic’s side, already ahead through Ryan Fredericks’ deflected first-half drive, shrugged off the disappointment of Rui Fonte blazing a penalty high over the School End crossbar to double their lead when the Portuguese forward teed up Johansen with some determined wing play and then showed plenty of resolve to preserve their lead after Conor Washington had halved QPR’s arrears at the start of nine minutes of added time.
Fulham’s victory was comprised of guts and fortitude as the frenzied nature of a local derby didn’t allow for much of their fluent football to flow. The visitors’ sense of adventure was evident from the fifth minute when a wonderfully weighted through ball from young Ryan Sessegnon sent Sheyi Ojo away, but the on-loan Liverpool winger pulled his shot across the face of goal. Both Luke Freeman and Massimo Lunogo sent sighters wide from long range, before a swift Fulham break saw Johansen drill a shot into the side netting.
Another rapid Fulham counter culminated in the marauding Fredericks’ fashioning a couple of yards of space for Fonte inside the QPR box with a threaded pass, but the former Benfica forward sidefooted well over Alex Smithies’ bar when he should have tested the home goalkeeper. Ojo, who looked as if he’d been impeded by a desperate Jack Robinson as he surged through on goal, lacked conviction in his finishing when he was sent clear after another excellent Fulham passing move and placed his shot too close to Smithies.
Just as the first half appeared to destined to finish scoreless, Fulham found a breakthrough. Fredericks, setting off on the sort of run that brought such reward at Nottingham Forest in midweek, found space open up for him in a central position and his low shot spun off Robinson, completing wrongfooting Smithies, and rolling into the back of the net. Rangers almost equalised with a freak goal of their own but Button was alive to the danger and clawed away Freeman’s corner before it dropped over him at the far post.
The high tempo continued after the break as the game became even more open. Ojo somehow failed to turn in a Johansen cross from close range and then was stretched off with a suspected dislocated shoulder after a heavy tackle – with the lively Neeskens Kebano replacing him. Holloway sent on former Fulham forward Matt Smith to try and spark a Rangers revival but Fulham, operating on the break and soon to introduce Denis Odoi as a third centre half, continued to look threatening.
Sessegnon revelled in the freedom of being a wing-back and saw an effort deflected wide after an intricate Fulham build up and then was foiled by the brave Smithies diving at his feet as the teenager was about to pull the trigger. In response, Freeman rustled the side netting with a curling free-kick from just outside the box as the home side sought to raise the tempo. It was the visitors who spurned the best chance to kill the game, after a combination of Lynch and Robinson had tripped the tricky Kebano in the box, but Fonte sent the spot-kick sailing over the bar.
The Portuguese striker would have been entitled to mope around in the aftermath but his desire to make amends led directly to Fulham’s second moments later. Fonte sprinted down the right flank to latch onto Kebano’s pass and then tracked infield before squaring the ball for Johansen, whose low shot from just outside the box left Smithies with no chance. If Fulham felt that would seal a routine victory, they had another thing coming.
Holloway now had Smith and Washington posing all sorts of problems for the Fulham back line as the hosts went far more direct – and Rangers grabbed a lifeline in the second minute of injury time. Smith soared above his old team mates to guide a free-kick into Washington’s path and the Northern Ireland international swept a sweet volley past an unsighted Button. The Fulham goalkeeper then saved well from Freeman with Luongo and Smith missing the target, and in the last minute of added time, the big striker sent a header past Button and towards goal, with both Sessegnon and Kalas scrambling the ball off the line. From the final corner of the evening, Smithies sent a header wide.
It was heart-stopping but Fulham dug deep to claim both the bragging rights and three precious points.
QUEENS PARK RANGERS (4-1-3-2): Smithies; Baptiste, Bidwell, Lynch, Robinson; Scowen; Wszolek (Smith 60), Luongo, Freeman; Mackie (Washington 60), Sylla (Wheeler 84). Subs (not used): Lumley, Furlong, Manning, Osayi-Samuel.
BOOKED: Lunogo, Mackie, Lynch.
GOAL: Washington (90+2).
FULHAM (4-3-3): Button; Fredericks, R. Sessegnon, Kalas, Ream; McDonald, Norwood, Johansen; Ojo (Kebano 55), Mollo (Odoi 62), Fonte (Cisse 90). Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Madl, Djalo, Graham.
BOOKED: Norwood, Fredericks, Button.
GOALS: Fredericks (41), Johansen (85).
REFEREE: Peter Bankes (Merseyside).