Slavisa Jokanovic called this absorbing promotion clash at Ashton Gate a battle between contrasting styles – and he couldn’t have been more correct. Whilst the Serbian suggested that Bristol City, whose third straight draw means they have yet to record a league win since the turn of the year, ‘go to the border of what is allowed,’ he would also have been bitterly disappointment that – just as in their last away trip at Bolton – Fulham failed to build on a promising start to claim all three points on their travels.
Where it was Matt Targett who headed the Whites in front at the Macron Stadium, Jokanovic’s latest deadline day signing, his compatriot Aleksandar Mitrovic, clinically converted a cross from debutante Chris Christie to give Fulham the perfect start to this pivotal promotion six-pointer. But the visitors, who certainly played more of the football throughout on a cold evening, were pegged back once again by a familiar foe in the form of Bobby Reid – and were indebted to some desperate defending at the death for the point they took back to London.
A share of the spoils meant that Jokanovic’s men had lost ground on Cardiff City, whose own victory means the Bluebirds are now eight points clear in the second automatic promotion spot, and was somewhat deflating given how well the night had began. The Fulham head coach had rung the changes for a second successive fixture and his alterations were vindicated with Christie creating the goal with a splendid bit of adventure down the flank and Denis Odoi, who replaced Tomas Kalas at centre back, bailing out his team-mates on two occasions late in the second half.
It was no surprise given Fulham’s ten match unbeaten run – and the Robins’ penchant for surrendering winning positions of late – that the visitors settled the swifter. Mitrovic quickly tested Frankie Fielding with a low drive from twenty yards after excellent approach play from Matt Target, but he was far more ruthless with his next chance just before the fifteen minute mark. The goal owed everything to Christie’s imagination and persistence as he galloped into space down the right and drilled in a delicious cross that the on-loan Newcastle forward, who hopes to lead the line for Serbia at the World Cup this summer, gleefully guided home to open his account for Fulham.
City, whose most concentrated pressure on Marcus Bettinelli’s goal came from Hordor Magnussen’s long throws, should have equalised a minute later but the Icelandic defender contrived to send a free header from Ryan Kent’s free-kick horribly wide. Fulham repelled the hosts’ aerial bombardment pretty effectively but, just as they appeared to rode out a prolonged period of pressure, the visitors conceded in sloppy fashion and it was Reid, a scorer in the Robins’ impressive victory at Craven Cottage earlier in the season, who snaffled his sixteenth goal of the campaign.
Josh Brownhill recovered possession in midfield and fed Reid, who worked a clever one-two with Kent after the ball bounced a little fortuitously back into his path, and the attacking midfielder fired low past a helpless Bettinelli. The Fulham goalkeeper was furious by the break with referee Jeremy Simpson, whose indulgence of some particularly robust City tackling raised eyebrows, after being continually impeded from Magnussen’s long throws.
Fulham might have been back in front before half-time but for Tom Cairney lifting a decent opportunity over the bar after he seized on awful crossfield pass from Magnussen and raced in on Fielding’s goal. Fulham fashioned the first opening of the second half when Piazon used his strength to win a duel on the edge of the Bristol City penalty area and found Johansen. The Norwegian’s perfectly weighted pass offered a shooting opportunity to Mitrovic, but Fielding got a strong palm to the Serbian’s strike.
At the other end, Reid steered a volley wide before Mitrovic could only glance a corner wide of the near post from an acute angle. There were ironic cheers when referee Simpson finally cautioned Ryan Kent for cynically chopping down Cairney, the subject of several hefty home challenges, as the Fulham captain looked to break clear and, after a lull in proceedings, Fulham failed to convert the best chance of the second period when Sessegnon surged down the left at full speed and cut back an inviting cross which the sliding Mitrovic missed by a matter of inches. Substitute Ollie Norwood tried his luck from thirty yards but his daisycutter was well watched through a forest of legs by Fielding.
A rare mistake from Tim Ream presented Jamie Paterson with a decent chance but the Scot snatched at his shot from the right angle of the box and dragged it disappointingly wide before a frantic final ten minutes delivered two more decent chances for Reid. City’s creative hub was first denied by a brilliant block at close range from Odoi as he looked certain to put the home side ahead and then, in the last of five added minutes, Ream arrived in the nick of time to avert the danger as Reid threatened a late winner.
BRISTOL CITY (4-4-2): Fielding; Wright, Magnussen (Bryan 74), Flint, Baker; Smith, Brownhill, Kent (Eliasson 80), Paterson; Reid, Diedhiou (Diony 80). Subs (not used): Steele, Kelly, Walsh, Engvall.
BOOKED: Kent, Flint, Reid.
GOAL: Reid (35).
FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; Christie, Targett (Ayite 74), Odoi, Ream; McDonald, Johansen, Cairney (Norwood 79); Piazon, R. Sessegnon, Mitrovic (Kamara 74). Subs (not used): Button, Fredericks, Kalas, Kebano.
GOAL: Mitrovic (14).
REFEREE: Jeremy Simpson (Lancashire).