A sensational strike from Cyrus Christie secured Fulham’s first win since the resumption of Championship football as the Whites came from behind to claim all three points at Queens Park Rangers this evening.
Christie, arguably Fulham’s most consistent performer on his return to the side, fired home a powerful low shot from 25 yards and settled a nervy local derby in the visitors’ favour. Fulham’s performance was gritty rather than convincing, but Scott Parker’s side showed commendable character to overcome an awful start and record a morale-boosting victory.
Parker rejigged the Fulham back four following that defensive horror show at Leeds, shifting Denis Odoi to left back and bringing in Christie for Joe Bryan. The new-look rearguard made the worst possible start with Odoi and Christie losing possession, allowing Ryan Manning to whip a dangerous cross in from the left. Jordan Hugill climbed above Tim Ream all too easily and QPR were in front inside the very first minute.
It was hardly the sort of start Parker, who has seen Fulham’s hopes of automatic promotion evaporate quickly after the lockdown, would have envisaged. His side looked largely toothless going forward, with Bobby Decordova-Reid largely ineffectual as a replacement for the suspended Aleksandar Mitrovic. Their first sight of goal came from Christie, who bombed forward with intent all evening, but Liam Kelly easily gathered his speculative shot from long range.
An equaliser almost arrived courtesy of a mishit shot from the tigerish Harrison Reid but the ball spun off the base of the far post and away to safety. Fulham were gradually beginning to dominate possession, but their goal still came somewhat out of the blue. Harry Arter cut infield from the right flank and, with little other option, let fly from distance to score his first league goal for the club – although Kelly should have done better going down to his left.
The goal galvanised Fulham further. Arter was denied a second in quick succession when Ben Amos got in the way of another venomous drive, but as the first half drew to a close familiar defensive frailties came to the fore. First, Geoff Cameron released the lively Bright Osayi-Samuel down the left and, when the winger produced a great cut-back another QPR goal appeared like a formality, but Amos blasted way over the bar from twelve yards. Just before the break, Marek Rodak produced a splendid save to deny Hugill a second, springing to his right to turn over the forward’s rising drive after he had tricked his way between Tom Cairney and Michael Hector.
The break came at a good time for Fulham, who were quickly on the front foot in the second half. Anthony Knockaert seized on a mistake from Yoann Barbet but Kelly scrambled across his line to palm aside the Frenchman’s measured finish. The QPR goalkeeper was in the right place from the resulting corner, grabbing Michael Hector’s downward header with Christie inches away from providing a decisive contact himself.
Rangers still looked dangerous going forward themselves and Todd Kane should have done better than volley an inviting centre from the dangerous Manning high into the Loft having ghosted in at the far post. It was a miss that would prove pivotal. Fulham, who had signalled their intentions with a speedy break from the back that saw Christie and Knockaert combine down the right before Kane touched the cross clear just in the nick of time, were beginning to put more pressure on the Rangers goal.
The winner came from an unlikely source. Christie had one scored once in 58 previous Fulham appearances – a similarly sweet strike at Millwall in the League Cup – and Rangers afforded him plenty of space as he moved onto a clever pass from substitute Josh Onomah. The Irish international had not been averse to pulling the trigger all night – but the quality of this finish was sublime, arrowing into the bottom corner from fully 25 yards out.
Mark Warburton quickly shuffled his pack in search of an equaliser, throwing on Aramide Oteh and Olamide Shadipo, and the final quarter of the contest saw Rangers firmly on the front foot. The home side were unfortunate not to grab a leveller deep two minutes from time when Manning headed an Eze corner against the crossbar and Fulham just about scrambled the loose ball clear. The wing-back spurned the clearest chance during six minutes of stoppage time when he looped another header over the bar from a corner as Fulham clung on to claim a much-needed three points.
QUEENS PARK RANGERS (3-5-2): Kelly; Kakay, Cameron, Barbet; Kane (Shodipo 80), Ball (Chair 89), Amos, Manning, Eze; Osayi-Samuel (Oteh 80), Hugill. Subs (not used): Lumley, Shodipo, Rangel, Masterson, Bettache, Gubbins, Clarke.
BOOKED: Manning, Hugill.
GOAL: Hugill (1).
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Christie, Odoi, Hector, Ream; Arter (Onomah 70), Reed; Cavaleiro (S. Sessegnon 90+4), Knockaert (Bryan 70), Cairney (McDonald 90+4); Decordova-Reid (Le Marchand 79). Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Johansen, de la Torre, Jasper.
BOOKED: Christie, Cairney, Knockaert.
GOALS: Arter (21), Christie (75).
REFEREE: Gavin Ward (Surrey).