Fulham paid the penalty for a passive second-half display as they dropped more points at Deepdale this afternoon. Marco Silva’s men looked totally in control when Tim Ream turned in his first goal in almost four years to reward their dominant start, but Frankie McAvoy’s side responded with a spirit and intensity that the visitors failed to match after half time. There might have been controversy about substitute Ched Evans’ equaliser – with referee Chris Kavanagh missing three handballs – as Evans and Emil Riis challenged Marek Rodak at a corner – but there was certainly no arguing with the fact that North End were very good value for their point.
Silva had been getting increasingly frustrated on the touchline as Fulham struggled to replicate the simplicity of their pass and move game from the first half. Preston, who inflicted Bournemouth’s first defeat of the season earlier in the month, have come from behind to pick up points eleven times this season and they grew in confidence once the Whites failed to add to Ream’s rare strike. The hosts looked the more likely winners the longer the game went on with Alan Browne blazing over and Riis seeing a stoppage-time shot blocked.
The Danish striker, arguably one of the division’s best bargains after signing from Randers, has scored twelve goals in all competitions this season and almost punished some hesitancy from Tosin Adarabioyo, who had an underwhelming day at the heart of Fulham’s defence, before the centre half got back to avert the danger. Fulham had threatened from a succession of set plays and their opener arrived courtesy of a terrific whipped free-kick from the right by Jean Michael Seri, with Ream running untracked to poke in the easiest of finishes from close range.
Ream had to be alert at the other end five minutes to prevent Riis from grabbing a leveller after the striker had surged away from the remnants of the Fulham defence. The American veteran did just about enough to prevent Riis from getting a clean shot away, although he was grateful for Adarabioyo’s intervention after losing out to the Dane on the right wing with Riis’ near post shot deflected behind.
The hosts took great confidence from the way they had managed to trouble Fulham in the final ten minutes of the first period and kept the ball impressively for much of the second half. Antonee Robinson was booked for a lunge at Tom Barkhuizen and a daisycutter from Riis, who had collected his own cleared long throw, crept through a forest of legs but Rodak made a smart diving stop. Silva’s side were struggling to generate any momentum of their own, with Harry Wilson’s free kick barely extending Daniel Iversen, and he sent on Josh Onomah and Bobby Decordova-Reid in an attempt to liven up proceedings.
Aleksandar Mitrovic, brilliant marshalled by the Preston defence throughout, fashioned a half chance for Fabio Carvalho with some fine hold up play, but the teenager’s curler from the edge of the area flew a couple of yards over the crossbar. But Fulham were pegged back by Evans, who had a similar impact in midweek against Middlesbrough when he came off the bench to turn a game that was drifting away from Preston in North End’s favour. The Welsh striker challenged Rodak from Ben Whiteman’s corner and forced the ball home, with television replays confirming that it had struck the arms of both Evans and Riis before crossing the line.
Furious Fulham protests came to nothing and North End could easily have clinched another comeback win as they remained on the front foot for the rest of the contest. Andrew Hughes and Browne blazed efforts over the bar before, after the skipper had done brilliantly to keep the ball on the right flank, he and Evans combined to release Riis in the inside left position but black shirts got back to avoid any further drama.
Silva was still seething on the touchline at the final whistle, but he will have been alarmed at how his side surrendered the initiative in the face of Preston’s pressure. Whether the illness that has made preparation for Fulham’s last two fixtures impacted upon that is unknown, but the Whites will need to be far better than this when Scott Parker returns to Craven Cottage with Bournemouth on Friday night.
PRESTON NORTH END (3-4-1-2): Iversen; van der Berg, Lindsey, Hughes (Cunningham 90+4); Whiteman, McCann, Barkhuizen (Storey 54), Earl; Browne; Maguire (Evans 60), Riis. Subs (not used): Hudson, Johnson, Ledson, Sinclair.
BOOKED: van den Berg, Evans.
GOAL: Evans (72).
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Odoi, A. Robinson, Adarabioyo, Ream; Reed, Seri; Wilson, Kebano, Carvalho, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Gazzaniga, Tete, Hector, Onomah, Knockaert, Decordova-Reid, Muniz.
BOOKED: A. Robinson, Onomah.
GOAL: Ream (15).
REFEREE: Chris Kavanagh (Lancashire).