Ivan Cavaleiro’s header might have rescued a point in this relegation battle, but Fulham will be left to reflect on just why the substitute’s late intervention was necessary after Scott Parker’s side had completely dominated the first half at West Brom. That they only led by Bobby Decordova-Reid’s early strike at half-time was a cause for concern, having squandered several presentable opportunities to increase their lead, and the visitors were punished for their prolifigacy when Kyle Bartley took just second half minutes to level matters. Matheus Pereira guided the Baggies in front after an impressive cameo from debutante Mbaye Diagne and, although Cavaleiro secured a seventh draw in Fulham’s last ten fixtures, it didn’t feel like enough to bolster their survival hopes.
Newcastle’s surprise triumph at Goodison Park eased some of the pressure on Steve Bruce earlier and Fulham, without a league win since early November, are still four points from safety. The prospect of not picking three points would not have been on their radar given how easily they seemed to overwhelm Sam Allardyce’s side from the outside. Aleksandar Mitrovic, handed his first start in four league games, led the line with relish and had a hand in a fine team move for the opening. The Serbian’s close control and pass from Ademola Lookman’s forward ball was sublime allowing Decordova-Reid, rampaging forward from right wing-back, to stroke his sixth of the season past Sam Johnstone.
Mitrovic was posing serious problems for Albion’s back three – another lay-off sent Ruben Loftus-Cheek away down the left but he couldn’t curl a finish beyond Johnstone. The Chelsea loanee then turned provider, slipping a lovely reverse-ball through to present Decordova-Reid with an almost identical chance to the one he had converted eight minutes earlier. This time he struck the inside of the far post and the ball bounced away to safety. It was to prove a pivotal moment. Fulham had further opportunities, Loftus-Cheek firing over, and Lookman forcing a scrambling save from Johnstone as he spun in the box whilst being manhandled by Bartley, but nothing quite as clear as that.
It took West Brom 41 minutes to register a shot on target with Karlan Grant, introduced as a replacement for Daragh O’Shea midway through the first half, swivelling to shoot from the edge of the box, but his powerpuff finish was easily fielded by Alphonse Areola. The hosts were clearly second best, which made the swiftness of their second half revival all the more surprising. Allardyce clearly urged his team to up the intensity and sending on Diagne, who had only arrived in the Midlands last night after completing a loan move from Galatasaray, brought an immediate reward as he put Joachim Andersen under the kind of pressure that had been sorely lacking – chasing down a loose ball by the byline.
Albion had the ball high up the field and worked a position for the previously peripheral Pereira to whip a cross it the box. There was an element of fortune about the way it reached Bartley, a deflection off Ola Aina totally wrongfooting Andersen, but the Baggies centre half improvised a fine finish to equalise. That galvanised the Baggies and they were now the more progressive side with Diagne fashioning an opening for Pereira, who nearly found the target from distance.
Fulham were far from the composed side that had ended the first period in charge and worse was to follow. Diagne’s dynamism led to a second goal when the Senegalese forward drove down the right flank and sent a low cross into the centre. Pereira gambled, reaching the near post ahead of Aina and an instinctive left-footed finish, having taken a nick off the Nigerian international, found the far corner. Bartley might have made it three when he made the most of confusion following a long-throw to poke an effort agonisingly wide after linking up with Semi Ajayi.
Parker sent on Harrison Reed and Cavaleiro in an attempt to add more energy to what had become a listless Fulham display. The visitors had been on the back foot for long periods since going behind, with only a speculative Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa effort troubling Johnstone. But the pair of substitutes combined to create a fine equaliser: Reed, wide on the right, whipped in a delicious cross to the far post, where Cavaleiro’s excellent diving header set up a grandstand finale.
Neither side could find a late winner – Mitrovic coming closest when his downward header from a corner was smartly saved by Johnstone – and, even if Parker had refused to accept this was your classical relegation six-pointer, a return of two points from recent trips to Brighton and the Hawthorns leaves the Whites with an awful lot to do if they are going to escape a third relegation from the top flight in seven seasons.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION (3-4-2-1): Johnstone; Bartley, O’Shea (Grant 23), Ajayi; Furlong, Gibbs, Gallagher, Livermore (Phillips 83); Snodgrass, Pereira; C. Robinson (Diagne 45). Subs (not used): Button, Ivanovic, Peltier, Townsend, Sawyers, Phillips, Robson-Kanu, Grant, Diagne.
GOALS: Bartley (47), Pereira (66).
FULHAM (3-4-3): Areola; Aina (Tete 81), Andersen, Adarabioyo; Decordova-Reid (Cavaleiro 72), A. Robinson, Lemina (Reed 72), Anguissa; Loftus-Cheek, Lookman, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rodak, Hector, Ream, Onomah, Kebano, Kamara.
GOALS: Decordova-Reid (10), Cavaleiro (77).
REFEREE: Anthony Taylor (Lancashire).
VIDEO ASSISTANT REFEREE: Peter Bankes (Merseyside).