Talk about last gasp. Substitute Josh Onomah’s stoppage-time strike stole a valuable victory for Fulham against brave Birmingham City at Craven Cottage this afternoon after Scott Parker’s side had been distinctly unimpressive for large spells of a soporific spectacle.
Onomah’s second Fulham goal arrived just in the nick of time to lift the hosts above Nottingham Forest into fourth place in the Championship table – keeping their extremely feint hopes of rejoining the battle for automatic promotion alive. The former Tottenham midfielder had supplied some sorely needed creativity and dynamism to a turgid Fulham display when introduced on the hour mark, but his precise right-footed finish to a flowing move down the right will provide a timely confidence boost ahead of Tuesday’s trip to the City Ground. It was fitting that a surging late run into the box from the superb Harrison Reid, comfortably Fulham’s most consistent performer, laid on the chance for Onomah, whose low strike from twelve yards left the otherwise unbeatable Lee Camp with little chance.
Fulham finished with an intensity that left you wondering where such vigour and potency had been in the first 70 minutes. Parker had opted for the same starting line-up that had laboured to victory at QPR on Tuesday, but his side failed to muster a single shot on target in a first half where they enjoyed 80 per cent of the possession. Indeed, it was Birmingham, who looked by far the likelier to open the scoring. Michael Hector’s inexplicably shoddy backpass allowed talented teenager Jude Bellingham an early sight of goal but the Dortmund transfer target didn’t get a clean enough connection to beat Marek Rodak. He shot tamely at the Fulham goalkeeper from just outside the box moments later as the home defence continued to creak alarmingly.
The visitors fashioned plenty of openings despite not seeing much of the ball and should have gone ahead on the quarter hour. Jeremie Bela sauntered away from Cyrus Christie down the left and his dangerous cross almost caught out Rodak, with the Fulham goalkeeper palming the ball onto the near post and watching with relief as Bellingham could only head the follow up against the crossbar. At the other end, Fulham’s clearest sight of goal during a forgettable first half saw Christie’s attempt to reprise his midweek winner bravely blocked by Gary Gardner.
Parker’s only alteration at half-time was to replace Denis Odoi with Joe Bryan at left back and, whilst the former Bristol City full back, offered greater threat going forward, it failed to wake Fulham from their slumber. Anthony Knockaert was full of running but once again lacked that clinical touch in the final third. The French winger ballooned a shoot over the bar within thirty seconds of the restart and then hit a low shot straight at Camp from close range after Cavaleiro had tricked his way into the Birmingham box. His most glaring miss, though, came when he was found at the far post by a beautiful Bryan switch of play only to fire wastefully wide from six yards.
It appeared destined to be one of those days. Fulham upped the tempo considerably in the closing quarter of an hour but Camp kept Blues in the contest. He pushed away a powerful Onomah strike from fully 30 yards and then produced a magnificent double save, keeping out Bryan’s blast from distance before recovering to thwart Decordova-Reid, although the Fulham forward should have finished on the volley.
A succession of corners came and went and, as the Birmingham back line dropped deeper, it appeared as if Craven Cottage was about to witness its first league goalless draw in nearly nine years. But, in the fifth minute of stoppage time, Fulham fashioned a priceless winner with movement that had been badly lacking earlier. Decordova-Reid jinked down the right, committing a couple of defenders, spotting Reed’s clever run and the Southampton loanee squared it for Onomah to slide home a nerveless finish. It felt harsh on Birmingham and more than a little fortuitous but Parker and Fulham will hope Onomah’s late intervention ignites their promotion push.
FULHAM (4-3-3): Rodak; Christie, Odoi (Bryan 45), Hector, Ream; Reed, Arter (Onomah 60), Cairney; Knockaert (Jasper 87), Cavaleiro (Kebano 70), Decordova-Reid. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, S. Sessegnon, Le Marchand, McDonald, Johansen.
BOOKED: Hector, Odoi.
GOAL: Onomah (90+5).
BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-1-4-1): Camp; Colin, Pederson, Roberts, Clarke-Salter; Sunjic, Gardner, Crowley (Dean 85), Bellingham (Kieftenbeld 57), Bela (Harding 74); Hogan (Jutkiewicz 74). Subs (not used): Trueman, Gordon, Stirk, Boyd-Munce, Reid.
BOOKED: Gardner, Bellingham, Roberts, Clarke-Salter.
REFEREE: Keith Stroud (Bournemouth).