First half strikes from Aboubakar Kamara and Bobby Decordova-Reid saw Fulham past a spirited and enterprising Sheffield Wednesday side as the Premier League outfit booked a tantalising tie with local rivals Brentford in round four.
Scott Parker fielded a strong side despite the spectre of another vital league fixture against Aston Villa on Monday night looming, but it was Sheffield Wednesday who made the early running at a damp Craven Cottage. The Owls, who had made an unbeaten start to the campaign without conceding a goal in their first four games, settled quickest even though Garry Monk had made eleven changes from the side that drew with Watford on Saturday. They played pretty football from the outset, but struggled to find the penetration in the final third to hurt Fulham.
After Adam Reach and Fikayo Dele-Bashiru had shown early glimmers of their creativity, Fulham opened the scoring from their very first attack. Michael Hector, once voted Wednesday’s player of the year during a successful loan spell at Hillsborough, nodded a ball through for Anthony Knockaert, who burst through the visitors’ defence far too easily. The Frenchman might have gone for goal himself but unselfishly squared for Aboubakar Kamara, who rolled home the simplest of finishes from eight yards out.
Wednesday kept pressing despite that early setback. Joey Pelupessy picked out Adam Reach with a clever ball down the left and the versatile forward produced a neat turn to wiggle away from two challengers before forcing a fine reaction save from Marek Rodak when he unleashed a trademark left-footed drive from the edge of the box. The visitors were posing serious problems down the Fulham left and were unfortunate not to level when former Brentford full-back Moses Odubajo burst into space and produced a great pull back that Dele-Bashiru couldn’t fire past Rodak, who made another good save. The Slovakian international was kept busy throughout and certainly made his point to Scott Parker, who dropped him for defeat by Leeds last weekend.
Fulham were nowhere near as sharp in their passing as they would have liked to be – their opportunities were limited to largely individual efforts. Antonee Robinson demonstrated his rapid pace as he surged clear down the left flank and almost matched an eye-catching burst with a fine finish, but Joe Wildsmith clawed the American international’s rasping drive away for a corner. The Whites were gradually moving through the gears and grabbed a second goal just after the half hour. Decordova-Reid was on hand to snaffle his second goal in as many games after brilliant work from Josh Onomah down the right – an inviting cross was perfect for the Jamaican to fire home.
A two-goal deficit was harsh on Wednesday, who continued to come forward without reservation. The lively Dele-Bashiru sauntered into a great position down the left but Rodak palmed away Odubajo’s attempted finish. They almost halved their arrears straight after the break but Rodak made another stunning save to deny Odubjao and, just to show that the Owls’ luck was definitely out, Liam Palmer’s effort from the rebound was turned wide by Elias Kachunga.
Fulham were far more fluent in the second half and should have put the game to bed well before the end. Hector made a horrible mess of a header when he was picked out by a beautiful cross from Kamara, heading the ball away from goal rather than towards the Wednesday net. Decordova-Reid then fired straight at Wildsmith when clean through and Kamara’s wonderfully weighted through ball unlocked the visitors’ defence for Knockaert, who drove wastefully wide with Wildsmith committed to narrowing the angle.
Knockaert nearly made amends for that glaring miss when an audacious chip from outside the box clipped the top of the crossbar after a spellbinding period of Fulham possession, but the ruthlessness that characterised Fulham’s finishing in the first half had deserted them. Decordova-Reid should have had a hat-trick but he blazed over after Tyrese Francois had laid one on a plate for him eight yards out. There was a rare sighting of Jean-Michael Seri in a Fulham shirt and a senior debut for Fabio Carvalho, who almost stole the headlines when he seized on a short backpass in the dying seconds only to lift his finish over Wildsmith and wide.
Parker, being the perfectionist that he is, will have plenty of bones to pick out of this curious display. Fulham were casual at times in possession and horribly wasteful with their finishing, but prevailed over dangerous opponents by virtue of that touch of top flight quality. Plenty of these players will now have much-needed minutes in their legs and the Fulham boss will turn his attention to coming up with a winning formula ahead of the visit of Aston Villa on Monday. Planning for a tasty trip to Hounslow will have to wait.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Odoi, Robinson, Hector, Ream; Johansen, Onomah (Seri 62); Kebano, Knockaert (Carvalho 78), Decordova-Reid; Kamara (Francois 81). Subs (not used): Fabri, Le Marchand, Bryan, Cavaleiro.
GOALS: Kamara (9), Decordova-Reid (32).
SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY (3-5-2): Wildsmith, Brennan, Shaw, Börner; Odubajo, Palmer (Penney 71), Dele-Bashiru, Pelupessy, Waldock (Rhodes 79); Reach, Kachunga (Hagan 82). Subs (not used): Dawson, Iorfa.
REFEREE: Lee Mason (Lancashire).