It took until deep into the first period of extra time, but goals from Bobby Decordova-Reid and Neeskens Kebano secured a safe passage into the fourth round of the FA Cup for Fulham and killed off the brave resistance of Queens Park Rangers. Scott Parker was keen for his side to maintain the momentum they had generated before coronavirus had ripped through their playing squad and, whilst there were signs of serious rustiness in Shepherd’s Bush, this was another morale-boosting success as the Whites tuned up for tough league tussles against Chelsea and Manchester United in the next few days.
Parker opted not to give youth its head in a local derby but there were returns for Josh Onomah, who hadn’t featured in the first team since October, Kenny Tete and Terence Kongolo, whose own recovery from a serious knee injury had left him on the sidelines since signing permanently from Huddersfield at the end of the summer transfer window. Marek Rodak was handed a rare start in goal, whilst Aleksandar Mitrovic began up front, but had been stripped of the captaincy following his New Year’s party with Luka Milivojevic.
The visitors took a while to settle. QPR began expansively, seeking a first win in seven, and spurned a great opportunity when Macauley Bonne contrived to send a free header over the top from six yards out after beating Mitrovic to Tom Carroll’s corner. The lively Ilias Chair tested Rodak with a drive from distance whilst Fulham were still feeling their way into the contest. Ivan Cavaleiro replied with a rather wild effort from long range, but there was some artistry about the build-up with Tete driving down the right encouragingly and Onomah’s deft pass inviting the Portuguese winger to shoot.
Tete was required to intervene at the other end, twice sliding in at the last possible moment to thwart Bright Osayi-Samuel from profiting inside the area, before Fulham’s opposite wing-back Joe Bryan almost stole centre stage. Bryan hasn’t found the net for the Whites since his brilliant brace against Brentford that secured their return to the top flight, but he almost produced another moment of genius – as a wonderfully weighted chip nearly caught out Seny Dieng in the QPR goal. The left back linked brilliantly with Onomah to allow the former Tottenham midfielder a shooting chance from the edge of the box, but his effort drifted tamely wide.
Mitrovic toiled manfully but looked well short of both the usual menace he carries and that predatory instinct that has eluded him for much of this season. He was denied a shot on goal by a well-timed saving tackle from former Brentford defender Yoann Barbet, couldn’t get another ball out of his feet to fire goalwards on the edge of the box and then sent a header wide on the stroke of half-time from a teasing Bryan corner. At the other end, Rodak saved well to prevent Osayi-Samuel converting a clever delivery from Lyndon Dykes – and a half-time stalemate felt appropriate after an even contest.
Fulham began the second period with much more urgency, but it was QPR who carved out the clearer chances. Bonne missed another glorious opportunity when Todd Kane’s cross nicked off Kongolo and fell invitingly for him at the far post. The former Charlton forward opted to hit it first time and fired disappointingly over, when he had the chance to take the ball down and produce a much more composed finish. Rodak made two magnificent saves in quick succession to preserve parity, the first a reaction block with his knees at the near post to deny Bonne and then a diving effort that saw him turn aside an angled drive from Dominic Ball after the defensive midfielder had found space in the Fulham box.
Parker’s men persisted with pretty football but lacked the ruthlessness in the final third to match. Bryan couldn’t make the most of a decent opportunity on his weaker right foot before Cavaleiro dallied inexplicably in front of goal, allowing Barbet to get back and clear Mitrovic’s eventual shot off the line. Decordova-Reid then joined the Serbian as an orthodox strike partner as Fulham went for the win, but the substitution actually allowed Rangers – who had gone a bit more direct themselves – to have another significant period of pressure.
Dykes should have handed them the advantage when he sprung the Fulham offside trap in the simplest terms by chasing a long clearance from goalkeeper Dieng. He reached it ahead of Michael Hector and should have volleyed home after Rodak opted not to charge from his line but screwed his shot harmlessly wide. A classier opening was fashioned by fine wing play from Osayi-Samuel as he sauntered down the left and produced a brilliant cut-back but Charlie Kelman couldn’t turn it home at the near post.
Parker sent on Kebano with time ticking away and then introduced Antonee Robinson and Denis Odoi at the start of extra time. That saw the Whites switch to a back four with Ola Aina operating as a holding midfielder – and Fulham had the better of the exchanges after that with Robinson and Bryan dovetailing effectively down the left. Decordova-Reid glanced a header agonisingly wide from Bryan’s deep cross and you felt like the game was nailed on to finish in one of those classically calamitous Fulham penalty shoot-outs.
Decordova-Reid had other ideas though. Robinson located him 30 yards from goal with a purposeful pass, but there was still plenty to do. Fulham’s man of the season did brilliantly, spinning to face goal, playing a quick one-two with Mitrovic, and finding the bottom corner with a brilliant low shot – making the most of the space that a tired Rangers defence had erred in giving him. There was a second even before the first period of extra time was complete with Kebano, impressive after coming off the bench, lashing home at the first post after Decordova-Reid and Onomah had knitted together a dangerous move inside the QPR box.
This was by no means a complete performance, but there will be elements of it that Parker will be delighted with after a difficult fortnight down at Motspur Park. A potential banana skin has been averted, several fringe players and potential key performers have more minutes in their legs, and there are reasons for real positivity as the Whites ready themselves for another pivotal run of fixtures.
QUEENS PARK RANGERS (3-4-3): Dieng; Barbet, Cameron (Masterson 91), Dickie; Kane, Osayi-Sameul (Haemaelaeinen 91), Ball, Carroll (Bettache 82); Chair (Thomas 82), Bonne (Kelman 73), Dykes. Subs (not used): Barnes, Adomah, Willock.
BOOKED: Barbet, Haemaelaeinen.
FULHAM (3-4-2-1): Rodak; Aina, Ream, Kongolo (Hector 68); Tete (Odoi 91), Bryan, Reed (Kebano 78), Loftus-Cheek (Robinson 91); Onomah, Cavaleiro (Decordova-Reid 67); Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Fabri, Adarabioyo, Carvalho, Jasper.
GOALS: Decordova-Reid (106), Kebano (108).
REFEREE: Simon Hooper (Hampshire).