A brace from Aboubakar Kamara either side of half-time was enough for Fulham to overcome a youthful Exeter City and secure a place in the third round of the League Cup at Craven Cottage tonight.
The French forward, offered an opportunity to impress when Slavisa Jokanovic fielded an entirely different side from the one that recorded the Whites’ first Premier League win of the new campaign against Burnley on Sunday afternoon, demonstrated impressive agility to fire the home side ahead after just four minutes and then kept his cool when released by a fine through ball from skipper Stefan Johansen to double the lead three minutes into the second half. Fulham could – and perhaps should – have won by a greater margin against spirited League Two opposition, but Exeter had their moments and retained a laudable commitment to playing attractive and enterprising football.
Jokanovic will have been pleased that his side avoided an exit at the hands of lower league opponents, something they failed to do last season – when they bowed out at this stage to Bristol Rovers. There was an encouraging debut for £15m centre back Alfie Mawson, who looked commanding if short of match sharpness after recovering from knee surgery, and positive cameos from a number of his fringe players. The victory was marred by a serious looking injury to the lively Neeskens Kebano, who was stretchered off with possible ankle ligament damage.
Fulham got off to the perfect start inside the first five minutes when Republic of Ireland international Cyrus Christie surprised Christie Pym by shooting from the right angle of the penalty area and Kamara made no mistake with an instinctive volley into the top corner from the rebound. It might have been two three minutes later when Ryan Sessegnon surged forward from left back and sent a fizzing drive fractionally wide of the far post.
Matt Taylor’s side certainly didn’t try and put eleven men behind the ball and played some pretty football of their own. The Grecians, roared on by a vociferous band of nearly 1,500 travelling supporters, nearly got a reward for their positivity when Ibrahama Cisse was punished for overplaying in front of his back four and Matt Jay’s low strike from distance beat Sergio Rico and rattled the base of the far post. That scare galvanised the home side and Kebano spurned two good chances before the break, with Pym fielding a tame shot at his near post, before the Congolese winger spooned an effort over the bar from a good position inside the penalty area.
The hosts made the best possible start to the second period – their second goal owing much to Mawson’s calmness in possession as he began a sweeping counter-attack with a raking forward ball. Johansen had a couple of options to ponder over as he moved over the half-way and played the perfect pass allowing Kamara to accelerate away from the Exeter defence. The former Amiens forward showed commendable calmness in front of goal, slotting an unerring finish inside the near post with the outside of his foot, to put Fulham in complete control.
He then turned provider – making an intelligent run to latch onto another forward ball and unselfishly laying it off for Kebano, who got underneath his shot and sent it into the Hammersmith End. Exeter, who were bolstered by the introduction of the impressive Hiram Boateng in midfield at half-time, still looked to get men forward whenever possible and the Whites were indebted to a smart block from the retreating Calum Chambers as Jay appeared ready to pull the trigger inside the Fulham box.
The Premier League still saw the majority of the ball and went in search of a third goal. Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa’s lovely spin and pass released Sessegnon down the left and when the teenager’s low cross was diverted goalwards by Rui Fonte at the near post it looked a certain third – until Pym somehow parried the ball to safety. Kebano had a shot bravely blocked at source by Aaron Martin but the Fulham winger looked in serious pain immediately as he fell to the turf and was stretchered off after receiving treatment on the field.
Anguissa should have registered his first senior goal in the closing stages but he contrived to lift his close-range finish over the bar after Pym had scrambled across his line to turn Johansen’s curling free-kick onto the post. The Cameroonian international created another chance for himself in the last minute of normal time when he drove towards the Exeter box before unleashing a powerful strike that Pym juggled, before claiming as it bounced up off the turf.
Jokanovic will have a few selection issues to mull over ahead of Fulham’s trip to Brighton and Hove Albion at the weekend, with Mawson’s integration into the side a priority once he is deemed ready to reacquaint himself with the rough and tumble of the Premier League. Kamara may well consider himself unfortunate not to get a look in on the south coast after this sharp display.
FULHAM (4-3-3): Rico; Christie, R. Sessegnon, Chambers, Mawson (S. Sessegnon 75); Cisse, Anguissa, Johansen; Kamara, Kebano (de la Torre 74), Fonte. Subs (not used): Fabri, Bryan, Odoi, McDonald, Mitrovic.
GOALS: Kamara (4, 48).
EXETER CITY (3-4-3): Pym; O’Shea, Croll, A. Martin; J. Oates, Tillson, L. Martin (Boateng 45), Holmes (Sparkes 55); Jay, Abrahams (Taylor 69), Collins. Subs (not used): Hamon, Sweeney, Hartridge, Stockley.
BOOKED: Collins, O’Shea, Abrahams.
REFEREE: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire).