Scott Parker will tell you that the League Cup isn’t very high on his list of priorities – as evidenced by the ten changes for tonight’s trip to Hounslow – but an embarrassing defeat at the hands of their local rivals only served to heighten the sense of crisis engulfing Fulham. Brentford extracted a modicum of revenge for their Championship play-off final defeat at Wembley 58 days ago but the most worrying element of another frail capitulation for Parker would have been the lethargy of his second string.
Barring a fifteen minute period when Ademola Lookman’s arrival from the bench enlivened a ponderous performance, Fulham were horribly flat – a damning indictment of a side presumably selected to put pressure on Parker’s previously under par first teamers. Neeskens Kebano curled a free-kick against the top of David Raya’s near post, but the most dangerous of Fulham’s attacking moments came via the Spanish goalkeeper’s interventions. Raya, famously beaten by Joe Bryan’s Wembley free-kick, was fortunate to escape punishment for fouling Kebano after he attempted to clear the danger by the corner flag and then miskicked a clearance straight to Jean Michael Seri but Anthony Knockaert’s snapshot from the right angle of the penalty area flashed into the side netting.
The French winger’s next contribution was to play Seri into trouble with a hospital pass on the halfway line. Marcus Forss, who had handled in the box moments earlier to rule out an opening goal, showed far more desire to win the ball and Brentford quickly exploited oceans of space on the right wing. Iranian international Saman Ghoddos drove into the penalty area and cut out Maxime Le Marchand and Michael Hector with a cut back that Forss thumped past a helpless Rodak.
Parker sent on Lookman, signed on loan from RB Leipzig yesterday, and the ex-Everton winger briefly gave Fulham some dynamism in the final third. He immediately linked up impressively with Stefan Johansen down the left and pulled back a cross for Kebano, who was denied by a splendid save from Raya. Ola Aina, who looked rusty on his first Fulham appearance, sent a speculative shot wide before Lookman darted clear down the left flank and picked out Seri in the centre, only for the Ivorian to spoon a glorious chance over from ten yards out.
That miss proved pivotal. Brentford, peripheral in the second period until that point, doubled their lead three minutes later from a simple set play. Fulham’s defending was shambolic. Ethan Pinnock flicked a free-kick across the area and Said Benrahma, making his first start of the season after failing to agree a move away over the summer, strolled towards the loose ball to stroke home a simple finish. The Algerian winger’s second was altogether more magical as he fired an unerring finish into the far corner from 25 yards after embarrassing Hector with an outrageous Cryuff turn, but it still looked far too easy.
Parker had sent on Aleksandar Mitrovic in an attempt to present more of a formidable forward threat, but it was Brentford who looked more likely to add further goals. Rodak made a magnificent save to deny Emiliando Marcondes a fourth as time ticked by, but the hosts had long since done enough to reach the last eight for the first time in their history. It was hardly the sort of warm-up Parker would have envisaged for Sunday’s trip to Wolverhampton Wanderers, which is increasingly looking like a crunch fixture. With no new centre halves on the horizon, even picking up a first Premier League point of the campaign looks a tall order – and, regardless of how unfair it seems, the pressure will be mounting on the Fulham boss. That magical night at Wembley feels a long way away now.
BRENTFORD (4-3-3): Raya; Fosu, Thompson, Pinnock, Sorensen; DaSilva (Norgaard 69), Marcondes, Jensen; Benrahma (Stevens 80), Ghoddos (Canos 68), Forss. Subs (not used): Daniels, Jansson, Stevens, Toney.
BOOKED: Fosu, Jensen.
GOALS: Forss (37), Benrahma (62, 78).
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Aina (Odoi 69), Robinson, Hector, Le Marchand; Johansen, Seri; Knockaert (Mitrovic 69), Kebano, Onomah (Lookman 45); Kamara. Subs (not used): Fabri, Bryan, Francois, Cairney.
BOOKED: Kamara, Johansen.
REFEREE: Jon Moss (West Yorkshire).