Slavisa Jokanovic wasn’t satisfied but his Wednesday evening finished far happier once Stefan Johansen’s fantastic volley steered Fulham past a spirited Hull City and secured their first home win of a fitful Championship campaign. The Serbian head coach, difficult to please at the best of times, fretted about more frenetic defending and a whole host of missed chances but hard-fought victory over opponents who showed far more fortitude at Craven Cottage than they managed at Derby on Friday night might just ignite Fulham’s season.
True to form, Fulham made heavy weather of procuring all three points. They could have put well ahead before Floyd Ayite, who buzzed around as bright false nine at the head of a home attack still missing Rui Fonte, diverted in a dangerous cross from the lively Sheyi Ojo and certainly should have extended their lead prior to Jarrod Bowen’s headed leveller. Ryan Sessegnon somehow contrived to miss the target with half the goal to aim at head when heading in Ojo’s cross from four yards out – and Hull quickly equalised. Leonid Slutsky’s side might have gone in front themselves but for David Button’s smart save from Ola Aina.
In what turned into a remarkably open second period after a staid first half, both sides had further opportunities to go in front. Johansen, who delivered the sort of rampaging display from an advanced midfield role that epitomised the drive and desire he has brought to SW6 since signing from Celtic last August, eventually landed the dealing blow. The Norwegian arrived throw a crowd of players to meet Ryan Fredericks’ cross after Ayite had failed to connect with an overhead kick, but Johansen’s instinctive chest touch and volley flew in off the underside of the bar.
It was no more than Fulham’s dominance deserved but Jokanovic’s charges still had major problems in seeing out the victory, befitting a team that had surrendered winning positions here against Norwich and Cardiff. Allan McGregor, who was outstanding in the Hull goal, made excellent saves to deny Ayite and Tim Ream and when the Scottish international was finally beaten in stoppage time a deflection took substitute Yohan Mollo’s fierce drive onto the crossbar. All of that meant Fulham had to endure a traumatic five minutes of stoppage time within which Sessegnon almost put through his own net with a back header from Kamil Grosicki’s cross and a succession of Hull set plays eventually come to naught.
Jokanovic admitted afterwards that his new-look side have struggled to get to grips with the demanding nature of the early-season programme and Fulham initially struggled for fluency without the injured Hull academy graduate Tom Cairney in their midfield. Sheyi Ojo had the first sight of goal but shot over and Ayite’s deflected drive nearly embarrassed McGregor before the goalkeeper made a stupendous reaction save to somehow turn the Togolese international’s shot-on-the-spin over the bar at a corner.
From Fulham’s next corner, the visitors ended up on the edge of their penalty area after a lightning first break which culminated in Nouha Dicko’s venomous drive being palmed away by Button. Bowen, who has now registered five Championship goals in seven starts, almost bent a curling effort around the Fulham goalkeeper but it was the hosts who took the lead shortly before the interval. Sessegnon surged forward from left back – not for the first time – and clever interplay between Neeskens Kebano and Ojo saw the Liverpool loanee fire in a low cross that Ayite instinctively prodded home at the near post.
By the time Bowen pounced to punish some statesque defending after Button had brilliant kept out his initial header, the visitors were good value for their equaliser. In a ten-minute spell of concerted pressure that followed immediately afterwards, Hull could easily have gone in front. Button stood up well to thwart Chelsea loanee Aina and, in the ensuing scramble, Fredericks had to hook a loose ball away from the goal-line after it had spun back off Kebano. Former Wolves striker Dicko will also feel that he should have tested the Fulham keeper further when found by a clever pass from Seb Larsson, but the tide turned again with Johansen’s moment of magic.
This wasn’t the flawless display that Jokanovic might have dreamed about but given the Whites were without a number of key players through injury, Fulham will settle for the sort of gutsy success that has eluded them in a frustrating first six weeks of the new season. Hull were doughty opponents, understandably low on confidence following the Derby debacle, as Slutsky conceded afterwards. If the Russian can help his side rediscover their verve, this shouldn’t prove as testing a season as it may appear currently for the Tigers either.
FULHAM (4-3-3): Button; Fredericks (Odoi 90), R. Sessegnon, Kalas, Ream; McDonald, Norwood Johansen; Ojo (Kamara 90), Kebano (Mollo 68), Ayite. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Djalo, Cisse, Graham.
GOALS: Ayite (43), Johansen (62).
HULL CITY (5-3-2): McGregor; Aina, Kingsley (Diomande 82), Tomori, Dawson, Hector; Meyler (Toral 65), Larsson, Grosicki; Bowen, Dicko (Campbell 58). Subs (not used): Marshall, Clark, Irvine, Henriksen.
GOAL: Bowen (53).
REFEREE: Tim Robinson (West Sussex).