Was it the after-effects of the raucuous celebrations that followed the lifting of the Championship trophy? Marco Silva didn’t want to employ ‘easy excuses’ after Fulham’s fabulous season ended with very little fight at Bramall Lane this afternoon. Perhaps Anthony Knockaert’s prowess with a paintball gun was to blame. The Whites, scorers of more than a century of goals and assured of a place in the Premier League, wilted in a white-hot atmosphere as Sheffield United strolled into the play-offs with a 4-0 win that was every bit as comprehensive as the scoreline suggests.
None of Silva’s four changes from the side that thrashed Luton Town on Monday proved particularly effective. Paulo Gazzaniga made Marek Rodak look like Lev Yashin when he remained rooted to the spot rather than stopping Morgan Gibbs-White’s header from going in off the post, Michael Hector showed precisely way he will be a free agent in a month’s time, Neeskens Kebano spurned his only sight of goal and Nathaniel Chalobah limped off injured after half an hour. Even Jean Michael Seri stumbled – with Sander Berge seizing on the Ivorian’s slip to feed Gibbs-White, who turned provider for Iliman Ndiaye to make it 2-0.
The game was over as a contest five minutes later when Ndiaye breezed beyond Hector having latched onto a flick on from Gibbs-White and saw a low cross turned in by Berge – with Gazzaniga and Tim Ream both not doing enough to prevent the close-range finish. Fulham, who had actually began the game brightly with one-touch football between Aleksandar Mitrovic and Fabio Carvalho, were completely overrun in midfield with Ollie Norwood, who whipped in a brilliant cross for the opening goal from the left wing, outstanding for the hosts. It took until stoppage time for the visitors to fashion a clear-cut opening when Bobby Decordova-Reid’s deep cross dropped invitingly for Carvalho, who appeared certain to mark his farewell with goal, only for former Fulham goalkeeper Wes Foderingham to make a fine reaction stop.
There wasn’t much respite in the second half. Bramall Lane was bouncing after a lovely move along the left saw Enda Stevens, marauding forward from wing-back, lash in a fourth after one-touch approach play from John Fleck and Berge. Gazzaniga reacted well to keep out John Egan’s header from a Norwood set-play after a crude foul by Hector, but the visitors’ afternoon was summed up at the other end when Josh Onomah couldn’t even score from close range when an attempted clearance came into his path.
Fotheringham, who was denied a professional deal at Craven Cottage by the emergence of Marcus Bettinelli, made a couple of sharp saves to deny Kebano and substitute Rodrigo Muniz in quick succession. It seemed a sad way for Ream’s association with the Whites to end – as it appears poised to this season – with a line of stewards preventing the American veteran from showing the true extent of his appreciation to a travelling support, who partied on regardless of this resounding defeat. Silva’s side might have been scintillating on their way to the title, but this is plenty of work to be done this summer to make the Whites Premier League ready.
SHEFFIELD UNITED (3-4-1-2): Foderingham; Basham, Egan, J. Robinson; Osborn, Stevens, Norwood, Fleck (Hourihane 75); Berge; Gibbs-White (Jebbison 78), Ndiaye (Osula 62). Subs (not used): A. Davies, Norrington-Davies, B. Davies, Baldock.
BOOKED: Fleck, Stevens.
GOALS: Gibbs-White (10), Ndiaye (21), Berge (23), Stevens (49).
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Gazzaniga; Tete, A. Robinson, Hector, Ream; Chalobah (Onomah 30), Seri (Reed 72); Kebano, Decordova-Reid, Carvalho; Mitrovic (Muniz 60). Subs (not used): Fabri, Adarabioyo, Cavaleiro, Stansfield.
REFEREE: Josh Smith (Peterborough).