A superb strike from Tom Cairney rescued a point for Fulham at fellow promotion chasers Bristol City this afternoon, although Scott Parker will feel his side should have claimed a victory after dominating for long spells at Ashton Gate.
As it was, the Whites had to come from behind to keep themselves in the automatic promotion hunt. Bobby Decordova-Reid spurned a number of opportunities to make his first return to BS3 before Nakhi Wells punished some sloppy defending to head the Robins in front with twenty minutes to play. It looked like that would settle the contest, but Cairney had other ideas, showing great anticipation to seize on a loose ball after Harry Arter had surged forward and curled a majestic equaliser into the bottom corner from 19 yards.
Parker’s men pushed for a winner during four added minutes. Former Fulham defender Tomas Kalas produced an outstanding block to prevent Decordova-Reid from poaching a winner. The most contentious moment came with virtually the last kick of the game when goalkeeper Nicky Mäenpää spilled a cross from Cyrus Christie and then clattered into Cairney as the Fulham skipper looked poised to convert the loose ball.
Fulham would have been frustrated not to claim all three points as they started at a swift tempo, with Decordova-Reid the man who posed his old club the most searching questions. He flicked a header wide after Ivan Cavaleiro delivered a peach of a cross from the left flank and then was foiled by a fine save from Mäenpää as he unleashed a venomous strike from the edge of the area on the stroke of half-time.
Marek Rodak had made largely routine saves in the first period, fielding a couple of straightforward efforts from Wells and Andreas Weimann, but he made an outstanding save to keep out Wells’ speculative strike just after the break once it looped off Tim Ream and looked destined for the opposite corner. Decordova-Reid went close at the other end, driving a low shot straight at Mäenpää after being released by Mitrovic, and the second half was much more open as both teams sought to breathe more live into their promotion campaigns.
Substitute Filip Benkovic rose well to head a Callum O’Dowda cross over the bar and Bristol City’s ambition was underlined when they broke breathlessly from a Fulham corner with Weimann surging into the penalty area only for Tim Ream to make a last-ditch tackle with two home runners free in the middle. The reprieve was short-lived. From the corner, Fulham spurned several chances to clear and Wells powered a header past Rodak at the far post to give the home side a lead.
Fulham were desperate to force a way back into the contest. Aleksandar Mitrovic, who was kept remarkably quiet by the Bristol City defence throughout, rippled the wrong side of the net with a low free-kick and then Mäenpää made an excellent reaction stop to thwart Denis Odoi’s near-post header from Neeskens Kebano’s corner.
It was left to Cairney to deliver a vital equaliser with six minutes left. He reacted quickest to seize a loose ball outside the Bristol City box and fashioned the sort of magnificent left-footed finish that has become his trademark in the Championship. Both Cairney and Decordova-Reid professed disappointment after the final whistle at Fulham’s failure to cut the gap to the top two, but the Whites will need to take matters into their own hands with crucial fixtures against Brentford and Leeds in the next eleven days.
BRISTOL CITY (4-4-2): Mäenpää; Pereira, Dasilva, Kalas, Baker (Benkovic 23); Smith, Massengo, O’Dowda, Paterson (Diedhou 64); Weimann, Wells (Eliasson 90). Subs (not used): Wollacott, Hunt, Williams, Palmer.
BOOKED: Pereira, Benkovic.
GOAL: Wells (70).
FULHAM (4-3-3): Rodak; Christie, Odoi, Hector, Ream (Knockaert 82); Arter, Decordova-Reid (Johansen 90+3), Cairney; Kamara, Cavaleiro (Kebano 66), Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, S. Sessegnon, McDonald, O’Riley.
BOOKED: Arter, Odoi.
GOAL: Cairney (84).
REFEREE: David Coote (Nottinghamshire).