This was the most dispiriting defeat of the season for Scott Parker. Any positives from last weekend’s battling point at Middlesbrough, where the Whites held out for more than seventy minutes with ten men, were swept away as Hull underlined their own promotion credentials with a polished performance well worthy of picking up all three points at Craven Cottage.
Parker can ill afford many more slip ups with a testing run of fixtures in the lead up to Christmas. Fulham’s faltering start to the season has yet to prove terminal to their hopes of returning to the Premier League, largely as a result of no clear front runner emerging in the promotion race, but – with Shahid Khan and Tony Khan in attendance ahead of the Jaguars’ visit to London this weekend – this was a poor time to put in their worst performance of the campaign.
The home side never really recovered from the early loss of Joe Bryan, who sustained a shoulder injury in a high challenge with Josh Bowler. His replacement Maxime Le Marchand never looked comfortable at left back and was beaten far too easily at the far post by Bowler when Kamil Grosicki, who had seen an early shot saved by Marcus Bettinelli, and Callum Elder cleverly worked an opening on the left. The ball ricocheted off the Frenchman but Bowler was quickest to react – volleying his first senior goal beyond Bettinelli with aplomb.
Grant McCann’s side would have been forgiven for protecting their precious lead, but buoyed by their recent victories over Nottingham Forest and Derby County, they were eager to add to their lead. The Tigers were a threat throughout on the counter attack and might have extended their advantage before half-time had the impressive Jarrod Bowen not inadvertently blocked a shot from Jon Toral.
Fulham again enjoyed more than the lion’s share of possession, but struggled to do anything with it. Their passing was well below par, typified by a hesitant performance from captain Tom Cairney in the middle of the park. Aleksandar Mitrovic looked horribly isolated up front, with Bobby Decordova-Reid sacrificed for Anthony Knockaert at half-time in search of more creativity. Parker’s side managed just one shot on target in the ninety minutes – a simple save for George Long when Mitrovic spun away for his man to finish the one first-half move of note – but the Serbian spurned an even better opportunity when he headed a corner wide from close range at the end of the first half.
The home side were looking much livelier at the beginning of the second half, but some excellent defending from the outstanding Jordy de Vijs and a lack of a telling final ball preserved Hull’s lead. Parker’s side huffed and puffed but they were picked off by a clinical counter-attack. Jackson Irvine bisected the Fulham defence with a beautifully measured pass and Bowen, a menace all afternoon, found the bottom corner with the coolest of finishes.
To all intents and purposes, that was the game done and dusted. Parker sent on Aboubakar Kamara but Fulham’s surfeit of forwards seemed only to get in each other’s way. Hull looked the likelier to add to the scoreline and the classy Grosicki was unfortunate not to a grab for himself when he strode past Denis Odoi and drove wide of the near post.
Fulham’s final indignity was the calamitous nature of Hull’s third goal six minutes from the end. Bowen burst through the remnants of the home defence and, although Bettinelli saved the Welsh forward’s low shot with his feet, the rebound fell kindly for substitute Tom Eaves, who had the simplest of finishes from close range. On this evidence, McCann’s men look a far surer bet for the play-offs than their hosts.
FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; Odoi (Kamara 61), Bryan (Le Marchand 6), Mawson, Ream; Reed, Johansen, Cairney; Decordova-Reid (Knockaert 45), Cavaleiro, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Norman, S. Sessegnon, McDonald, Onomah.
BOOKED: Reed, Johansen.
HULL CITY (4-2-3-1): Long; Lichai, Elder, Burke, de Wijs; Da Silva Lopes, Irvine (Honeyman 88); Grosicki, Bowler (Eaves 54), Toral; Bowen. Subs (not used): Ingram, Tafazolli, Pennington, Batty.
BOOKED: Irvine, Eaves.
GOALS: Bowler (9), Bowen (57), Eaves (84).
REFEREE: Keith Stroud (Bournemouth).