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Tom Cairney curls home a majestic equaliser

A second half double from captain Tom Cairney secured Fulham’s first pre-season win as Premier League Brighton and Hove Albion were put to the sword at Aldershot this afternoon.

Fulham had struggled to make much of an impression in the early stages as Graham Potter’s side started brightly and fell behind to a Pascal Gross free-kick midway through the first half. Marcus Bettinelli was penalised for handling the ball outside his penalty area and Gross curled the set play past the Fulham goalkeeper, although Glenn Murray was lurking in an offside position. The goal was awarded, despite the vociferous protests of Aleksandar Mitrovic to the assistant referee.

Bettinelli had already made a couple of smart saves to keep Fulham in the contest. He had to be alert inside the first minute to turn aside a low drive from Jurgen Locadia after the Brighton forward had cut inside Steven Sessegnon. The Fulham academy graduate then got his angles right to keep out Locadia’s first-time effort after Davy Propper had floated a delightful through ball over the Whites’ back four. Bettinelli was left stranded by Gross’s wicked free-kick and Fulham were grateful for an offside flag that denied Glenn Murray a second as headed home at the near post following a short corner.

Fulham had offered little as an attacking force for much of the first period, with their best opening coming courtesy of Neeskens Kebano’s pace down the right. The Congolese winger did brilliantly to beat his man and fashion a cross, but the recovering Martin Montoya arrived to nick the ball off Stefan Johansen’s toes.

Scott Parker opted against making any half-time changes but his side did seem far more purposeful after the break. They grabbed an equaliser four minutes into the second half when Johansen sped forward and fed Cairney on the corner of the penalty area. The Scottish international took a touch to work half a yard of space and curled an outstanding finish into the top corner.

Fulham survived a scarce just after the equaliser when a Gross corner came back off the crossbar, but raced up field to take the lead. Aboubakar Kamara seized on a misplaced pass and showcased his blistering pace down the right, tricking his way past Lewis Dunk into the area. He twice tried to square the ball for Cairney, with Jason Steele foiling his efforts, but the ball broke kindly for the Fulham skipper to finish clinically from six yards out.

Former Fulham defender Dan Burn was then introduced as one of four substitutes for Albion and was immediately in the thick of the action as Parker’s side surged forward. Steele made a couple of excellent reaction saves to deny Joe Bryan and then produced a fine stop to keep out a venomous Mitrovic effort at his near post.

Brighton mounted a late effort to try and draw level but struggled to create clear cut openings. New signing Leandro Trossard had a strike bravely blocked and Fulham successfully defended a late free-kick to record their first win of a testing summer programme. Parker’s side will travel to Oxford on Tuesday night before finishing their pre-season preparations with a London derby against West Ham United at Craven Cottage next weekend.

FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; S. Sessegnon (Christie 81), Bryan (Odoi 81), Mawson, Le Marchand; McDonald (Harris 54), Johansen (Francois 81), Cairney (de la Torre 74); Kebano (Kamara 54), Cavaleiro (Ayite 74), Mitrovic (Fonte 81). Subs (not used): Rodak, Opoku, O’Riley.

GOALS: Cairney (49, 58).

BRIGHTON AND HOVE ALBION (4-3-3): Ryan (Steele 45); Montoya (Davies 87), Bernado (Suttner 76), Duffy (Jahanbakhsh 60), Dunk; Propper (Kayal 60), Stephens (Dreyer 85), Gross; Locardia (Trossard 45), March (Andone 60), Murray (Burn 60). Subs (not used): Kote, O’Hora.

GOAL: Gross (28).

REFEREE: Gavin Ward (Surrey).