Late stoppage-time drama took the gloss off Fulham’s promotion party at Bournemouth this afternoon. Marco Silva’s side looked set to move within touching distance of the Championship title after Aleksandar Mitrovic’s second-half header gave them a lead, only for Harry Wilson to bring down Adam Smith in the seventh minute of added time. A furious Silva was sent off for leading the protests, with Scott Parker adding a few choice words of his own as his successor disappeared down the tunnel, and Solanke stepped up to roll the penalty into the bottom corner to secure a share of the spoils. The joyous celebration of the Bournemouth backroom staff, virtually all on Fulham’s payroll until the summer, told you how big a goal it was for the Cherries.
It was a gutting end to what had been a cagey afternoon, but it will make very little difference to Fulham’s season. Silva’s side are still likely to seal lift their first league title in more than twenty years in the closing weeks of the campaign and Bournemouth remain in pole position to join them in the Premier League. Mitrovic, deemed surplus to requirements by Parker as Fulham’s battle against the drop came down to the sharp end last season, did at least deliver a compelling reminder of his firepower with a trademark header that crossed the line by the finest of margins from Wilson’s cross. The Serbian striker has a remarkable 41 goals from 41 league games – and is just one short of Guy Whittingham’s post-war second tier record.
Parker threw on all of his creative players as the hosts dominated proceedings in the final quarter but it seemed as if Bournemouth would fall short. Substitute Todd Cantwell spurned the clearest chance right on ninety minutes, shooting into the side netting on the half volley, but a rush of blood from Wilson – who clearly caught Smith on the ankle – afforded Solanke, enjoying easily the most prolific season of his career, the opportunity to claim a precious point at the death.
Parker opted for his favourited 4-3-3 formation, replacing Jamal Lowe with Philip Billing to try and stifle Fulham’s flowing football. Lewis Cook gave an indication of the home side’s spoiling, cynically preventing a Wilson break and going into Scott’s book within thirty second. The pernickety official dished out more cards than Clinton’s, awarding 22 fouls before half time, despite there hardly being a dangerous challenge. His presence on the Premier League list serves as a reminder that the Championship doesn’t have a monopoly on poor officials.
Occasionally, football interrupted the blasts of Scott’s whistle. Wilson came closest with a deflected curler from a half-cleared corner that brought an athletic save from Mark Travers. Fulham had kept Solanke, the scorer of a wonderfully worked goal before Christmas at Craven Cottage, pretty quiet for much of the first half until he seized possession from Tim Ream only for Tosin Adarabioyo to block his great friend’s eventual shot. Joe Bryan, already cautioned following a tussle with Ryan Christie, was walking a disciplinary tightrope and was unsurprisingly replaced at half time.
Ream repelled the danger when Solanke had another sight of goal shortly after the interval and Mitrovic masterfully broke the deadlock eight minutes into the second period. Wilson whipped a deep cross to the back post where the Serbian climbed above the Bournemouth back line and headed home, with goal-line technology proving that Travers’ desperate attempts to claw the ball away had been unsuccessful. Fulham had chances to extend their lead, with Cairney setting Neeskens Kebano away down the left wing and the Congolese winger’s cross just eluding Mitrovic in the middle. From a free-kick that was headed across by Ream, Adarabioyo rattled the crossbar with his own header from close range.
The Whites were made to pay for their prolificacy right at the end of proceedings with Solanke stroking in the spot-kick to relief of Parker, who conceded his former employers were likely to finish the campaign as champions afterwards. Bournemouth need eight points from their final four fixtures to seal the second automatic promotion spot, with both sides set to face Nottingham Forest before the end of the season.
AFC BOURNEMOUTH (4-3-3): Travers, Laird, Smith, Phillips, Kelly; Billing (Lowe 45), Lerma (Cantwell 79), Cook; Christie, Anthony (Dembele 67), Solanke. Subs (not used): Woodman, Mepham, Brady, Pearson.
BOOKED: Cook, Phillips, Smith.
GOAL: Solanke (pen 90+8).
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Tete, Bryan (A. Robinson 45), Adarabioyo, Ream; Reed (Chalobah 72), Cairney (Seri 82); Wilson, Kebano, Carvalho; Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Gazzaniga, Hector, Decordova-Reid, Muniz.
BOOKED: Bryan, Reed, A. Robinson, Mitrovic, Rodak, Tete, Adarabioyo.
GOAL: Mitrovic (53).
REFEREE: Graham Scott (Oxfordshire).