After Callum Wilson had fired home his second of the afternoon, putting an imperious Bournemouth 3-0 up at Craven Cottage, it was left to Aleksandar Mitrovic to sum up the mood of the Fulham followers. The Serbian smashed the ball high into the air as it headed back towards the centre circle for the kick off, perhaps the sweetest a Fulham player had connected with it all day, aptly encapsulating the air of depression that has swiftly enveloped the Whites. That glorious May afternoon at Wembley seems a lot longer than six months ago.
The hero of that afternoon, Slavisa Jokanovic, is coming under increasing pressure – and not just because Shahid Khan had parted with more than £100m to make his newly-promoted charges competitive at the highest level. Jokanovic selected his tenth consecutive defence of the campaign and a third goalkeeper, although Sergio Rico was largely blameless on his Premier League debut. The defensive errors appear endemic no matter who lines up at the back for Fulham at the moment and Bournemouth’s easy-on-the eye passing style, with pace in the forward areas, was almost tailor-made to take full advantage of their hosts’ frailty.
Fulham began impishly but were fighting an uphill battle from the moment that Timothy Fosu-Mensah brainlessly bought down Wilson inside the box when there appeared little danger. The Bournemouth forward confidently dispatched the spot-kick and Eddie Howe’s side never seriously seemed like they were about to give up that advantage at any point afterwards. They seemed to have time on the ball and, in the graceful midfielder David Brooks, they had the afternoon’s outstanding performer. It was fitting that the Welsh international, who had starred for Sheffield United in the Championship last season, grabbed the crucial second goal – such was his influence on steering the contest gradually away from Fulham.
The home side struggled for fluency in possession and more than a fleeting side of the Bournemouth goal. Such was their desperation for a route back into the contest, Aboubakar Kamara flung himself to the ground under a challenge from Asmir Begovic and was rightly booked for simulation. Andre Schurrle sent their only shot on the target straight at the former Chelsea goalkeeper from just outside the box, whilst Denis Odoi perhaps should have done better with a free header at the near post when Fulham whipped up a rare head of steam.
The hosts’ did up the ante briefly in the second period, when Tom Cairney added a little more craft to their play when he was introduced from the bench, but typically Fulham the crucial second goal at a point when they were beginning to look a little more threatening. Adam Smith nipped in to steal possession from Jean-Michael Seri and the nippy Ryan Fraser carried the ball deep into Fulham territory before feeding Brooks, who slipped the ball between the legs of a stranded Rico to put the game beyond Jokanovic’s men.
The gravity of their situation only increased a minute later when the unfortunate Kevin McDonald was shown a second yellow card for hauling back Brooks, who looked set to double his tally, after he had capitalised on another mistake from Odoi. Bournemouth did make it three with four minutes to go when Wilson finished clinically after being released by a fine ball from Fraser and claimed his fifth goal in his last four matches. Jokanovic cut a diminished figure in lengthy conversation with his assistant Javier Perreira just before the final whistle – and he will need to work hard to lift his troops ahead of what already looks like a six-pointer with fellow strugglers Huddersfield.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rico; Fosu-Mensah, Le Marchand (Cairney 60), Odoi, Ream; McDonald, Seri (Anguissa 80); Kamara, R. Sessegnon, Schurrle; Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Christie, Mawson, Johansen, Vietto.
BOOKED: Kamara, McDonald, Mitrovic.
SENT OFF: McDonald.
AFC BOURNEMOUTH (3-4-3): Begovic; Francis, Ake, S. Cook; Smith, Daniels, Lerma, L. Cook (Gosling 80); Brooks (Stanislas 86), Fraser (Defoe 89), Wilson. Subs (not used): Boruc, D. Rico, Surman, Ibe.
BOOKED: S. Cook.
GOALS: Wilson (pen 14, 85), Brooks (72).
REFEREE: Andre Marriner (West Midlands).