Confirmation of the craziness of the Championship came at Craven Cottage as Fulham rekindled their feint hopes of automatic promotion with an insane victory over Sheffield Wednesday. The Whites capitalised on Brentford’s surprise slip-up at Stoke City to record a win over the Owls that takes the race for second spot to the final day, but they might have squandered a comfortable advantage during a frantic finale.
Scott Parker rotated his side with the prospect of the play-offs in mind, making five changes from Fulham’s ultimately unsatisfactory draw against West Brom in midweek. It didn’t seem to disrupt Fulham’s rhythm as they raced into a commanding three-goal lead, with Neeskens Kebano firing in the opener and Serbian striker Aleksandar Mitrovic bagging a brace to overtake Ollie Watkins as the division’s top scorer.
But Fulham’s defensive frailities were uncovered by Atdhe Nuhiu, one of three half-time Wednesday substitutes, whose early second-half spot-kick sparked a spirited revival from the visitors. It looked as if Kebano’s clever free-kick had restored Fulham’s comfortable lead, but when Jacob Murphy’s deflected drive from distance was followed by a trademark Nuhiu downward header, there was plenty of reason for the home side to panic.
In keeping with a crazy game, Fulham went straight down the other end and increased their advantage. Bobby Decordova-Reid slammed home a Mitrovic knock-down from outside the box to make it 5-3, although Harrison Reed – so pivotal in midfield for Fulham since the league’s resumption – will miss Wednesday’s crucial trip to Wigan Athletic after being sent off deep into stoppage time.
Kebano, who seems to save his best performances for Sheffield Wednesday, made the most of his opportunity to impress after Ivan Cavaleiro’s injury. The Congolese winger opened the scoring with a low finish from just outside the box after drifiting inside from the left having been found by a sweeping ball from Michael Hector. Some of Fulham’s football in first half was spellbinding and Cyrus Christie almost doubled the advantage from an acute angle – the Irish full-back denied by a smart save from Joe Wildsmith.
The second arrived on 26 minutes courtesy of a sumptuous passing move from the back. Fulham worked the ball patiently into midfield with a succession of short passes before Josh Onomah unlocked the Owls’ defence with a through ball that was perfectly weighted for Mitrovic to saunter clear. Although the striker’s run took him wide of goal, Mitrovic made light of the decreasing angle, confidently finding the bottom corner as Wildsmith rushed from his line.
More goals were on the cards with Onomah, in excellent form of late, sending a powerful half-volley fractionally wide. The chance to add a third came from the penalty spot after Dominic Iorfa crudely cut down Kebano in the area. Mitrovic made no mistake from twelve yards, despite slipping as he took the spot-kick, sending his finish straight down the middle.
The contest appeared as good as over at half-time but Garry Monk’s tactical switches gave Wednesday an impetus they had previously lacked. They got a penalty shortly after the break after a poor pass from Tim Ream played Maxime Le Marchand into trouble and Marek Radek was penalised for a two-footed challenge on Jacob Murphy. Nuhiu converted the spot-kick and the Owls came forward with more confidence afterwards.
Stefan Johansen and Mitrovic went close to restoring Fulham’s three goal lead after Wednesday’s strong spell, but it took a surging run from Reed to induce an error from the Wednesday rearguard. After the Southampton loanee was chopped down just outside the box, Kebano’s clever free-kick that crept under the wall gave Wildsmith no chance.
To Wednesday’s great credit, they refused to throw in the towel. Murphy’s speculative shot flew in off Kebano and, when Nuhiu nodded in from the winger’s right-wing cross, all the momentum appeared to be with the visitors. Fulham roused themselves in stoppage time, with Decordova-Reid making sure of the points by firing home his third goal of the season after Mitrovic had won a towering header. There was still time for Reed to see red, something which will complicate Parker’s preparation for a must-win clash at the DW Stadium, but the fact that Fulham are still in contention for second spot seems like something of a bonus.
FULHAM (4-3-3): Rodak; Christie, Le Marchand, Hector, Ream; Arter (Odoi 90), Johansen (Reed 68), Onomah (Cairney 79); Knockaert (S. Sessegnon 90), Kebano (Decordova-Reid 79), Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Mawson, McDonald, Bryan.
BOOKED: Decordova-Reid, Reed.
SENT-OFF: Reed (90+3).
GOALS: Kebano (11, 73), Mitrovic (26, pen 41), Decordova-Reid (90+1).
SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY (5-3-2): Wildsmith; Odubajo (Murphy 45), Harris, Iorfa, Lees, Boerner; Pelupessy (Hunt 79), Bannan, Luongo (Reach 75); Da Cruz (Nuhiu 45), Windass (Wickham 45). Subs (not used): Dawson, Palmer, Waldock, Rhodes.
GOALS: Nuhiu (pen 49, 89), Murphy (78).
REFEREE: Darren England.