Cardiff ramped up the pressure on Slavisa Jokanovic by recording their first league win of the season and sending Fulham into the relegation zone after an end-to-end contest at the Cardiff City Stadium.
The Whites failed to build on going in front thanks to a long-range thunderbolt by Andre Schürrle and were left to rue familiar failings as more wretched defending allowed Neil Warnock’s men to leapfrog them and climb out of the drop zone. A new-look back four, which Jokanovic admitted included ‘four centre halves’ and was designed to introduce more solidity at the back, crumbled under the weight of the task in front of them and, at times, it looked as if Cardiff, who had only scored two league goals all season, could score at will.
It looked as if the trip to Wales might bring some relief for Jokanovic, whose side were thumped 5-1 by Arsenal last weekend. The visitors went in front through a sensational strike from Schürrle , who may have been given far too much time to advance in a central position 35 yards from goal, but nobody would have expected him to curl a goal of the season contender past former Fulham keeper Neil Etheridge and into the top corner. It was a goal worthy of winning any game, but it proved a false dawn as the Bluebirds hit back twice in the space of five first half moments.
Calum Chambers, who endured a nightmare 45 minutes at right back, was caught horribly out of position going for an expansive one-two with Schürrle in the centre circle and Josh Murphy had the freedom of the city to race onto a searching through ball from centre back Sol Bamba. The former Norwich winger ran at Denis Odoi and finished clinically into the bottom corner with Marcus Bettinelli having little chance as the strike took a deflection off the covering Belgian defender. Five minutes later, it was 2-1 and again it proved a calamity of Fulham’s own making.
The Londoners’ looked to have dealt with the danger from a Cardiff free-kick which Gunarsson blasted into the wall but Schürrle attempted to take an extra touch rather than clear his lines and was robbed of possession outside his own area. Aron Gunnarsson’s tackle ricocheted past Tim Ream, who was slow to react, and Bobby Reid pounced to slide a finish under the advancing Tim Ream. It might have been worse for Fulham had Chambers been dismissed for pulling back his tormenter Murphy when he seemed set to race through on goal. The on-loan Arsenal man was shown a yellow card instead, before being substituted at half-time.
The Whites did at least go in level courtesy of Ryan Sessegnon’s first top-flight goal. The teenager, who has now scored five times in five appearances against City, produced an excellent finish to a flowing move to level the contest after Aleksandar Mitrovic – horribly isolated for most of the afternoon – beautifully flicked a through ball from Chambers into the winger’s path. Fulham might have been fortunate to have restored parity by the break, but the second half was a much more even and cagey affair until Jokanovic made the decision to replace Jean-Michael Seri with Floyd Ayite, unbalancing a midfield that was dominating possession until that point.
Both sides had chances to win it, but Fulham’s defence caved in with 25 minutes to go. Cardiff worked an opening down the right with the excellent Gunnarsson and Bruno Ecuele Manga involved before makeshift centre forward Calum Paterson beat both Ream and Mawson to the ball, turned and shot into the far corner, with Bettinelli seemingly going down in slow motion. Mawson had a header from a corner brilliantly palmed away by Etheridge but Fulham’s soft underbelly was underlined when Ream slipped on the halfway line allowing Victor Camarasa to surge into the area and cross for substitute Kadeem Harris, who made sure of the points with a low finish. No wonder Jokanovic admitted Fulham have ‘so many defensive problems to fix’ afterwards.
CARDIFF CITY (4-4-2): Etheridge; Ecula Manga, Bennett, Bamba, Morrison; Gunarsson (Richards 77), Arter (Damour 86), Camarasa, J. Murphy (K. Harris 82); Paterson, Reid. Subs (not used): Smithies, Cunningham, Hoilett, Zohore.
BOOKED: Gunnarsson, Morrison, Bamba, Richards.
GOALS: J. Murphy (15), Reid (20), Paterson (65), Harris (87).
FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; Chambers (Mawson 45), Odoi, Ream, Le Marchand; McDonald, Seri (Ayite 58), Johansen (Vietto 82); Schürrle , R. Sessegnon, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rico, Christie, Anguissa, Kamara.
BOOKED: Chambers, McDonald, Johansen.
GOALS: Schürrle (11), R. Sessegnon (34).
REFEREE: Kevin Friend (Leicester).