The improving Aboubakar Kamara and the ever-impressive Ryan Sessegnon shared four goals in seven minutes as Fulham roared back from a goal down to establish their Championship promotion credentials with what become a comfortable win over Ipswich Town at Craven Cottage. That the Whites owed their recovery largely to a moment of madness from defender Jordan Spence – sent off for a senseless lunge at Kamara when the Tractor Boys were a goal to the good – only served to irritate a disgruntled Mick McCarthy.
The Ipswich manager was left flabbergasted by his side’s collapse following Spence’s dismissal as the visitors conceded four goals in the space of seven second half minutes that extended their miserable run away from home to one win in 27 matches. Fulham’s fluent football certainly put their opponents under severe pressure, especially when they were reduced to ten men, but it was still a surprise to see Town swept aside in what seemed like the blink of an eye. Ipswich had absorbed a torrent of home pressure before the break – and went ahead through Joe Garner’s instinctive header on the stroke of half time.
Indeed, the first half was a microcosm of Fulham’s frustrating season. Slavisa Jokanovic’s side totally dominated proceedings from the outset, attacking with the sort of vigour that was badly missing from their start at Hull on Saturday. Ryan Fredericks’ devilish low cross narrowly eluded Kamara in the middle before Stefan Johansen drove over from range with just five minutes played. Spence steered a Floyd Ayite cross away from danger before Bartosz Bialkowski pushed away a powerful Kamara drive at his near post and the lively French forward fired over the bar just moments later.
It seemed like only a matter of time before Fulham broke the deadlock, with the returning Ollie Norwood striking a swerving free-kick only narrowly over and Sheyi Ojo also just missing the target with an effort from outside the box. But Ipswich gradually grew into the contest, with Bersant Celina almost capitalising on a calamitous square ball across his own box by Ollie Norwod, and Martyn Waghorn shooting wastefully over from long range.
Fulham served further notice of their threat up front when Neeskens Kebano, introduced as a substitute for the injured Ayite, sped down the left and produced an inviting cross that Kamara somehow failed to turn in from three yards out at the back post. Jokanovic’s side paid the harshest penalty when an off-colour Johansen conceded a needless free-kick tight to the touchline on the left wing and Waghorn’s whipped ball in caused chaos in the box with Marcus Bettinelli colliding with Garner, who headed the visitors into a scarcely believable lead.
The hosts, who almost conjured an immediate equaliser when Kebano’s snapshot was well held by Bialkowski, become the second half in a similar vein. Liverpool loanee Ojo fired into the Hammersmith End from a promising position before Norwood sent a speculative effort wide. Then came the moment that changed the game. Ipswich felt that Kamara should have been penalised for a roubust challenge on Freddie Sears in front of the dugouts, but a furious Spence took matters in his own hands, clattering into Kamara in his personal act of retribution. Keith Stroud consulted with his assistant before dismissing the Ipswich defender – and Fulham soon made their numerical advantage tell.
After Lucas Piazon had been astonishingly booked for simulation when he appeared to have been clipped in the box, the home side launched a wave of attacks on the Ipswich goal. Sessegnon started and finished the move, sprinting into space from left back and freeing Kamara inside the box. The French forward’s low cross was miscued from a matter of yards out by Kebano, but Sessegnon was on hand to head home from close range.
Three minutes later, Fulham went in front. A clever pass from Cairney sent Kebano scampering down the right side of the area and the winger cut the ball back perfectly for Norwood, whose low shot rattled against the legs of both and Ipswich defender and Kamara. The Frenchman reacted quickest and fired home clinically from five yards before treating the home fans to both somersault and a gun salute in joyous celebrations.
The home side now looked like they could score at will. That they did two minutes later was largely down to the fleet footedness of Cairney, with the captain producing both a brilliant bit of skill and mesmerising close control to bamboozle Luke Chambers and Tommy Smith before carrying the ball along the byline and sending a low cross along the goal-line to present Sessegnon with the simplest of finishes from a yard out.
The Fulham goal glut wasn’t complete until the 76th minute when Kamara, full of confidence by this point, darted into the box and worked some space on his right foot before striking a rising shot that looped beyond a horribly wrongfooted Bialkowski after a wicked deflection off Chambers. The home fans roared for a fifth which almost arrived when Cairney’s low drive was well held by the visiting keeper down to his left.
This victory closed the gap to the play-off places to just four points and felt critical given how the Whites had fallen beaten at the end of the first half. It will certainly give Jokanovic’s side a further injection of confidence as they prepare for the visit of Premier League Southampton in the FA Cup on Saturday.
FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; Fredericks, R. Sessegnon (Soares 88), Odoi, Ream; Norwood, Johansen, Cairney; Ojo (Piazon 65), Ayite (Kebano 34), Kamara. Subs (not used): Button, Kalas, McDonald, Fonte.
BOOKED: Ream, Piazon, Kebano.
GOALS: R. Sessegnon (69, 74), Kamara (72, 76).
IPSWICH TOWN (4-4-2): Bialkowski, Spence, Chambers, T Smith, Knudsen; Skuse, Connolly (Hyam 82), Celina (Iorfa 57), Ward (Sears 44); Waghorn, Garner. Subs (not used): M Crowe, McGoldrick, Bru, Kenlock.
BOOKED: Connolly, Chambers.
SENT OFF: Spence (54).
GOAL: Garner (45).
REFEREE: Keith Stroud (Gloucestershire).