Fulham banished the bitter memories of their play-off heartache at Madjeski Stadium with a commanding victory over ten-man Reading in the Berkshire drizzle this evening. Scott Parker’s side were in control even before John Swift received his marching orders for a second vicious foul inside twenty minutes, with captain Tom Cairney curling home a majestic opener and Aleksandar Mitrovic’s quickfire brace effectively ending the contest before the half-hour mark.
Parker freshened up his side following Friday night’s win over Wigan Athletic, introducing Denis Odoi at right back, recalling Harry Arter into the heart of the Fulham midfield and handing Bobby Decordova-Reid a surprise start on the left wing. Reading boss Jose Gomes made the bold decision to try and match the visitiors’ 4-3-3 formation, but the hosts were just unable to cope with Fulham’s fluid football and intelligent movement. Gomes’ tactical gamble could have disastrous consequences as the Portuguese coach will now be feeling the heat after six games without a win.
In truth this looked like a mismatch from the off. Decordova-Reid served early notice of Fulham’s intentions by cutting in from the left and firing over the crossbar, but it was the athleticism of Joe Bryan from full back that prised open the home defence throughout the first period. Fresh from his first league goal for the Whites, Bryan burst along the flank and slipped a clever ball into the feet of Stefan Johansen, who squared it for his skipper and Cairney found the top corner effortlessly from the edge of the box.
Swift, who could have walked for an industrious tackle on Decordova-Reid, was shown a second yellow card when he went through the back of Odoi – and with the former Chelsea midfielder went any hope of the Royals’ getting anything from the game. Fulham quickly exploited their numerical advantage with Mitrovic demonstrating his poacher’s instincts twice in three minutes. He deftly diverted home a teasing cross from Anthony Knockaert to double Fulham’s lead and then slotted home his second after another surging Bryan run.
Reading were reduced to damage limitation long before the half-time whistle. Both George Puscas and Yakou Meite, who spurned a glorious chance after being sent through on goal by Josh Barrett, had threatened the Fulham goal before the visitors’ onslaught but the closest they came to an opening after that was an optimistic shout for handball against Tim Ream, which referee Andy Woolmer waved away.
Any suggestion that Fulham might ease off after the break with an eye on Saturday’s London derby against Charlton was swiftly dispelled with their first foray of the second half. A barnstorming run down the left from Mitrovic fashioned an opening for Knockaert but Rafael did well to dash from his line and narrow the angle before making an excellent reaction save. Puscas briefly roused the home fans from their seats with a defiant run down the right that drew a save from Marcus Bettinelli at his near post.
At the other end, Rafael then produced another fine stop this time pushing away a venomous strike from Alfie Mawson at a Fulham corner before Knockaert drove wide following a quick counter led by Cairney. Fulham’s fourth arrived courtesy of a calamity in the Reading defence, with Liam Moore’s lame backpass selling Rafael short. The keeper’s clearance was charged down by Mitrovic and Johansen laid it off Cairney, whose impudent chip from 30 yards rubbed more salt in Reading’s wounds.
It might have been even worse for Reading. Mitrovic, a potent threat all night, almost laid on a fifth for Decordova-Reid at the back post, but instead the home side claimed a consolation in the final minute when Meite found a yard of space outside the area to curl a beauty into the top corner. There was no closing the enormous gulf between these two sides, however, as Fulham recorded their first win at Reading in eleven years and climbed to fourth in the Championship table.
READING (4-3-3): Rafael; Yiadom, Richardson, Morrison; Moore; Rinomhota, Swift, Ejaria (Olise 79); Meite, Barrett (Boye 45), Puscas (Joao 70). Subs (not used): Walker, Miazga, McIntyre, Pele.
BOOKED: Swift, Moore.
SENT OFF: Swift (20).
GOAL: Meite (89).
FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; Odoi, Bryan (Le Marchand 75), Mawson, Ream; Arter, Johansen, Cairney (Kamara 72); Knockaert (Onamoh 69), Decordova-Reid, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rodak, S. Sessegnon, Reed, Cavaleiro.
GOALS: Cairney (13, 68), Mitrovic (26, 29).
REFEREE: Andy Woolmer (Northamptonshire).