A sublime second half strike from Ryan Babel secured a third win in row for Fulham under caretaker boss Scott Parker and left Cardiff City facing an uphill battle avoid relegation.

The veteran Dutch international enlivened a poor quality contest with a curler from fully 25 yards out after being set up following a barnstorming run from right back by Cyrus Christie. The rest of the game was devoid of much action with the Bluebirds strangely subdued considering they needed a win to pile the pressure back on Brighton – the team closest to them in the relegation scrap.

The stop-start nature of proceedings between two poor sides was hardly helped by a horrible clash of heads between Maxime Le Marchand and Denis Odoi, which saw the Belgian defender substituted after an eight minute stoppage as immediate treatment was required for concussion on the pitch. The hosts created the clearest chances with Aleksandar Mitrovic turning towards goal and testing former Fulham goalkeeper Neil Etheridge from their first sustained spell of pressure twelve minutes in.

Following the horrible mix-up between Le Marchand and Odoi, Fulham – with Tom Cairney to the fore – kept the ball impressively and continued to ask the searching questions of the Cardiff defence. The Welsh weren’t exactly galvanised by whatever was the substance of Neil Warnock’s half time pep talk. Mitrovic spurned the game’s best opening when Cairney cut inside from the right wing and located the Serbian in space, but Fulham’s number nine blazed horribly into the Hammersmith End when fifteen yards out.

omposure to pick him out unmarked, but the striker turned his low pass well over from 15 yards.

The game continued with the same attritional approach from before the break, until 11 minutes from time when Babel stepped up to finally inject some quality.

Further chances were at a premium until Babel took matters into his own hands, finding the top corner with an unstoppable strike after Christie had galloped a long way down the right flank. Sergio Rico had an extremely quiet afternoon until the final five minutes when he saved headers from Michael Morrison and Grant Ward. Morrison did have one last chance to salvage a point right at the death, but he headed tamely into the gloves of Fulham’s Spanish goalkeeper.

FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rico; Odoi (Christie 28), Bryan, Le Marchand, Ream; Anguissa, Chambers; Babel (Ayite 89), R. Sessegnon (Mawson 85), Cairney; Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Fabri, Seri, Elliott, Kebano.

GOAL: Babel (75).

CARDIFF CITY (4-2-3-1): Etheridge; Peltier, Bennett, Morrison, Ecule Manga; Bacuna, Gunnarsson (Decordova-Reid 87); Hoilett, Mendez-Laing, Camarasa (Healey 72); Niang (Ward 61). Subs (not used): Murphy, Richards, Cunningham, K. Harris.

REFEREE: Chris Kavanagh (Greater Manchester).