Where to start? When I contemplated penning some thoughts on the rearranged trip to Reading, I didn’t dare dream Fulham register a 7-0 win, their second of the season – something last achieved on the road more than a hundred years ago by the Liverpool side of 1895-1896. My personal 4-1 pre-match prediction seems tame now, but I felt it was pretty optimistic given Fulham’s recent form and I must admit to not feeling particularly positive about proceedings at half-time – even with the Whites 2-0 up.
Understandably, Marco Silva’s side looked like a team who hadn’t played for a while, lacking a cutting edge in the final third with a frustrating reluctance to pull the trigger. A couple of heavy crosses from good positions by Kenny Tete and poor decisions from Antonee Robinson on the left added to the sense of rustiness. The Royals were in a generous mood, however, putting Wilson’s first goal on a plate for the Welshman with a poor back pass. He needed no second invitation to accept the belated Christmas gift.
Wilson was Fulham’s constant threat in the first half. He appeared unstoppable down the right, finding himself in on goal on a couple of occasions before being felled by Tom Holmes after being threaded through by Tom Cairney. There was no doubting who was going to take the penalty and Aleksandar Mitrovic dispatched it emphatically into the bottom corner to make it 2-0 right on the stroke of half time. That scoreline was much more comfortable than it could have been. A disastrous bit of defending from Robinson provided Mamadi Camara with a chance to equalise but Marek Rodak made a magnificent save from the midfielder’s backheel. Had that crept into the corner, our evening might have been very different.
Andy Carroll rolled the back the years in the first half with a virtuoso performance leading the Reading line. His hold-up play was excellent and he’ll be gutted to have come away without goal after two sublime offside finishes in the space of a minute. The first was a brilliant bicycle kick in the bottom right corner, whilst the second saw him control a cross magnificently on his chest and looping volley into the right hand side of the net – although Rodak was motionless having spotted the flag going up.
I don’t know what words of wisdom Silva dispensed at half time but instantly we looked hungrier after the break. We found ourselves in promising positions but didn’t fashion a clear opening until Robinson’s cut back was met by Harry Wilson for a tap in, his second of the game on the hour mark. What followed was some of the best football I’ve seen Fulham play; something I’ve said a number of times already this season. We had the momentum and kept on pushing, with Cairney and Reed controlling the engine room expertly, Wilson and Kebano stretching the defence out wide, creating chances and winning corners, two of which resulted in goals, not an uncommon sight for the Fulham fans this season.
The first looked like a training ground routine re-adapted. Wilson swung the ball away from goal to Mitrovic, who I’m sure was meant to volley it goalward. Instead, a powerful header from the edge of the box was glanced in by Tete for his first goal in a Fulham shirt. That was four and, at this point, the away end sensed seven might be on the cards again. Next up was Kebano, who fully deserved a goal after another scintillating showing down the left. He was denied by a fine Southwood save a little earlier, but the Congolese winger wasn’t to be denied. Wilson supplied a simple cross after being played in by a brilliant bit of vision and execution from Mitrovic and Kebano couldn’t miss. A second set piece goal arrived when Wilson swung in another corner and a towering header from Tosin found the bottom corner. The Fulham faithful were in full voice again after a dispiriting December.
Six goals to the good, Silva decided to ring the changes. We could easily have left it there and secured a clean sheet – as Scott Parker had tried to do and failed here a couple of years ago when facing ten men. This Fulham side does things differently. It was refreshing to see Silva take the more adventurous route. Rodrigo Muniz is fast becoming a fan favourite and made the most of his cameo bursting away from Holmes in the blink of an eye only to be thwarted by another smart Southwood save. Mitrovic’s sprint to reach the rebound and secure a seventh typified his desire. That takes his tally for 24 this season and 77 in total for Fulham, which lifts him above the late, great Jimmy Conway to become Fulham’s thirteenth highest goalscorer of all-time.
After the disappointments at Reading, a miserable mauling under Felix Magath and the pain of that narrow play-off semi-final defeat, here was a magical night to savour for the travelling Fulham faithful. Reading look utterly rudderless and the less said about their attendance the better, although fair play to the diehards who were still there to see the last rites of their record home defeat. As the away end sung, ‘Manchester City, we’re coming for you!’