For forty five minutes, it seemed as though Marco Silva might get the send off ahead of the international break that he wanted. Fulham – craving some consistency after a stuttering September – might have been fortunate to weather a bright Coventry side and lead through Kyle McFadzean’s own goal but as the half went on there were signs of their quality. Any hopes of a return to the top of the Championship were extinguished in a barmy fourteen minute spell after the interval that saw Mark Robins’ side score four goals without reply and cast serious aspersions over Fulham’s promotion credentials.
Viktor Gyokeres doesn’t need gifts to score goals at this level. He took his league tally to nine since turning his loan spell from Brighton into a permanent move, but he benefited from inexplicable generosity to bring the hosts level within two minutes of the restart. Paulo Gazzaniga, who endured another dreadful afternoon in the Fulham goal, played Tim Ream into trouble and after the American veteran slipped and stumbled into Josh Onomah, Callum O’Hare cleverly nipped in and unselfishly squared for Gyokeres to provide the perfect start to the second half.
It got even better for the Sky Blues four minutes later, although this time referee Gavin Ward was the central figure. He bought Matt Godden’s dive to the consternation of Antonee Robinson, who perhaps should have known better than to dangle a leg in the penalty area. Fulham already looked all at sea – but Godden shamelessly dusted himself down to send Gazzaniga the wrong way from twelve yards. The penalty area was scandalous but there was no forgiving Fulham’s pitiful lack of fight following this point as the game disappeared over the horizon at a rate of knots.
Those goals had the visitors rocking on their heels. Coventry’s tails were up. They were suddenly winning second balls and utilising the width of their old home to bring their flying wing backs into play. The recalled Fakaty Dabo drove down the right and put in a peach of delivery, which was only repelled to the opposite edge of the box. There was the other wing back, Chelsea Ian Maatsen, who lashed in a rocket of a volley. The home fans couldn’t scarce credit such a swift turnaround: Fulham just seemed shell-shocked.
Worse was to follow nine minutes later. Silva had sent on Ivan Cavaleiro along with Rodrigo Muniz in a desperate bid to add some attacking impetus. The Portuguese winger, who has featured in every game this season despite his indifferent form, coughed up possession to Dabo with his first contribution and the defending only became more kamikaze from there. Godden’s floated cross to the far post saw Gyoekeres hold off Odoi far too easily before poking past a passive Gazzaniga. The Argentine goalkeeper did produce a fine reaction stop to deny the Swedish striker a hat trick in the closing stages – but you wouldn’t blame Marek Rodak for fuming on the sidelines.
Silva will have plenty of time to ruminate on Fulham’s spineless surrender. They have lost three times since the last international break and, after this one, face a local derby with QPR at Craven Cottage where desire can’t be found wanting. Fulham showed little stomach for the fight after going so far behind with only Aleksandar Mitrovic offering any real passion, although unfortunately it was directed at the referee after he had ignored a cynical block by Jake Clarke-Salter and the Serbian striker was booked for dissent.
Silva’s decision to change a winning formula deserves significant scrutiny. Tosin Adarabioyo sat this one out and any confidence there might have been in the Ream-Alfie Mawson partnership evaporated in the blink of an eye. Robinson’s selection over Joe Bryan appeared to owe more to which of the left backs had more effectively proven their fitness following injuries in midweek, but the decision to bench Jean-Michael Seri for Josh Onomah left Harrison Reed with far too much turf to coverage in a chastening second half.
Coventry could easily have scored more – they looked rampant by the end – and had more than matched Fulham in a tight first half. It was still a troubling transformation. Perhaps they drew inspiration from Jimmy Hill, whose own reinvention of the club in the 1960s and 1970s was celebrated this afternoon. Hill would have enjoyed seeing his two old clubs serve up a rip-roaring encounter that typified the unpredictability of the English second tier.
Fulham, whom Hill rescued from financial ruin and a mooted merger with QPR in the 1980s, had intended to solidify their Championship challenge with a commanding performance in the Midlands. They began slowly in the Coventry drizzle, with O’Hare and Gyokeres offering an early warning of the hosts’ enterprise, but went in front when McFadzean headed a devilish corner from Neeskens Kebano into his own net after getting the wrong side of Mitrovic. Bobby Decordova-Reid drew a decent save from Simon Moore just before half time, but there was a warning of what was to come when Odoi dove in just in time to deny Maatsen after O’Hare had prised open the Fulham rearguard.
Silva seemed furious on the touchline after the frenzy of Coventry goals had died down. He had always wanted to return to England, having felt harshly treated at Everton, and felt he could prove a point by guiding the Cottagers back to the top flight at the first time of asking. On the evidence of this miserable Midlands afternoon, there’s a hell of a lot of work ahead. Fulham have flattered to deceive already this season, but a lack of grit is altogether more troubling.
COVENTRY CITY (3-4-1-2): Moore; Hyam, McFadzean, Clarke-Salter; Dabo, Maatsen, Kelly, Sheaf; O’Hare; Gyoekeres (Walker 90), Godden. Subs (not used): Wilson, Rose, Jones, Allen, Kane, Shipley.
GOALS: Gyokeres (47, 70), Godden (pen 51), Maatsen (61).
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Gazzaniga; Odoi, Robinson, Mawson, Ream; Reed, Onomah (Seri 56); Wilson, Kebano (Carvalho 68), Decordova-Reid (Muniz 68); Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rodak, Adarabioyo, Bryan, Quina.
BOOKED: Odoi, Mitrovic.
GOAL: McFadzen (o.g. 18).
REFEREE: Gavin Ward (Surrey).