Cairney rescues a point for Fulham

A superb strike from Tom Cairney rescued a point for Fulham at fellow promotion chasers Bristol City this afternoon, although Scott Parker will feel his side should have claimed a victory after dominating for long spells at Ashton Gate.

As it was, the Whites had to come from behind to keep themselves in the automatic promotion hunt. Bobby Decordova-Reid spurned a number of opportunities to make his first return to BS3 before Nakhi Wells punished some sloppy defending to head the Robins in front with twenty minutes to play. It looked like that would settle the contest, but Cairney had other ideas, showing great anticipation to seize on a loose ball after Harry Arter had surged forward and curled a majestic equaliser into the bottom corner from 19 yards.

Parker’s men pushed for a winner during four added minutes. Former Fulham defender Tomas Kalas produced an outstanding block to prevent Decordova-Reid from poaching a winner. The most contentious moment came with virtually the last kick of the game when goalkeeper Nicky Mäenpää spilled a cross from Cyrus Christie and then clattered into Cairney as the Fulham skipper looked poised to convert the loose ball.

Fulham would have been frustrated not to claim all three points as they started at a swift tempo, with Decordova-Reid the man who posed his old club the most searching questions. He flicked a header wide after Ivan Cavaleiro delivered a peach of a cross from the left flank and then was foiled by a fine save from Mäenpää as he unleashed a venomous strike from the edge of the area on the stroke of half-time.

Marek Rodak had made largely routine saves in the first period, fielding a couple of straightforward efforts from Wells and Andreas Weimann, but he made an outstanding save to keep out Wells’ speculative strike just after the break once it looped off Tim Ream and looked destined for the opposite corner. Decordova-Reid went close at the other end, driving a low shot straight at Mäenpää after being released by Mitrovic, and the second half was much more open as both teams sought to breathe more live into their promotion campaigns.

Substitute Filip Benkovic rose well to head a Callum O’Dowda cross over the bar and Bristol City’s ambition was underlined when they broke breathlessly from a Fulham corner with Weimann surging into the penalty area only for Tim Ream to make a last-ditch tackle with two home runners free in the middle. The reprieve was short-lived. From the corner, Fulham spurned several chances to clear and Wells powered a header past Rodak at the far post to give the home side a lead.

Fulham were desperate to force a way back into the contest. Aleksandar Mitrovic, who was kept remarkably quiet by the Bristol City defence throughout, rippled the wrong side of the net with a low free-kick and then Mäenpää made an excellent reaction stop to thwart Denis Odoi’s near-post header from Neeskens Kebano’s corner.

It was left to Cairney to deliver a vital equaliser with six minutes left. He reacted quickest to seize a loose ball outside the Bristol City box and fashioned the sort of magnificent left-footed finish that has become his trademark in the Championship. Both Cairney and Decordova-Reid professed disappointment after the final whistle at Fulham’s failure to cut the gap to the top two, but the Whites will need to take matters into their own hands with crucial fixtures against Brentford and Leeds in the next eleven days.

BRISTOL CITY (4-4-2): Mäenpää; Pereira, Dasilva, Kalas, Baker (Benkovic 23); Smith, Massengo, O’Dowda, Paterson (Diedhou 64); Weimann, Wells (Eliasson 90). Subs (not used): Wollacott, Hunt, Williams, Palmer.

BOOKED: Pereira, Benkovic.

GOAL: Wells (70).

FULHAM (4-3-3): Rodak; Christie, Odoi, Hector, Ream (Knockaert 82); Arter, Decordova-Reid (Johansen 90+3), Cairney; Kamara, Cavaleiro (Kebano 66), Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, S. Sessegnon, McDonald, O’Riley.

BOOKED: Arter, Odoi.

GOAL: Cairney (84).

REFEREE: David Coote (Nottinghamshire).

Parker praises Fulham’s character

Scott Parker praised his side’s character after Fulham battled to a vital victory over fellow promotion chasers Preston North End at Craven Cottage this afternoon.

The Whites were made to work hard for the three points. They had to wait until just before the hour to edge in front, when David Nugent headed Anthony Knockaert’s corner into his own net. The victory wasn’t secured until the final minute of stoppage time when Aboubakar Kamara finished his own swift counter-attack with aplomb.

Parker’s men are now six points behind second-placed Leeds, who thrashed Hull in the lunchtime kick-off, and seven off leaders West Brom, who lost at home to Wigan. The Fulham boss is refusing to look too far ahead, however, and wanted to concentrate on the way his side dealt with a strong side from Preston today.

“I’m pleased about the dogged display. The first 20 minutes we had to weather a storm. Preston had a day extra in their recovery and put pressure on us. I felt that one goal might decide the game and we managed to get that. After that I felt we were in the ascendancy.

We need to embrace this expectation. If you want to be a top team you need something a bit different, to have character. We’re slowly getting there.

It’s always important to win matches – we’ve come out of a busy schedule and to go into a busy periods with 10 games left it’s about our mentality now. West Brom and Leeds have been the best and most consistent in the division. They’re top teams and we have them both to play but we need to concentrate first on Bristol City.

My main focus is to worry about us. This division brings surprises week-in, week-out, so if you look too far ahead you can be jabbed on the nose. I look at my players and we have a bit of belief about us now. The dramatic way we won says that I see a group of players prepared to grind out a result.

Kamara clinches crucial Fulham win

Fulham ground out another vital win to keep themselves in the automatic promotion picture as a late strike from Aboubakar Kamara after David Nugent’s own goal secured a victory over fellow promotion contenders Preston North End at Craven Cottage this afternoon.

Scott Parker’s side were made to work hard for the three points by their visitors, with Preston enjoying plenty of the ball in the first half and creating a number of clear-cut chances. Alex Neill’s side were unable to score when they were on top and, once Fulham got a stroke of good fortune to take the lead after Nugent inadvertently nodded in a near post corner from Anthony Knockaert, they assumed control of the contest.

The away side started the stronger – fashioning the first chance via a sweeping move down the right flank. Ben Davies stepped in to disrupt a Fulham attack, found Nugent and Tom Barkhuizen breezed away from Joe Bryan, who injured his hamstring attempting to match the midfielder’s blistering pace, and when Marek Rodak could only parry the low cross into Brad Potts’ path, Michael Hector had to make a last-ditch saving tackle. Cyrus Christie replaced Bryan, with Denis Odoi switching to left back, and the Republic of Ireland full back produced his most complete display in a Fulham shirt, offering a real attacking threat throughout.

Fulham enjoyed more fortune when North End had a goal chalked off questionably in the tenth minute. Nugent flicked on Daniel Johnson’s corner for Sean Maguire to force home at the far post – but the flag went up for offside. Whether the Ireland international had to touch it given Nugent’s header might have been heading for the far corner anyway was also open to question, but decision seemed marginal at best. Rodak then fielded a rising drive from Alan Browne as the visitors continued to flood forward in numbers.

Parker’s men gradually began to put together some promising football of their own. A looping Knockaert header after some fine approach play by Christie was easy enough for Declan Rudd to field and another intricate move saw Bobby Decordova-Reid skip into space in the box before dragging his shot disappointingly wide.

Preston’s ambition was still posing Fulham serious problems. Patrick Bauer headed wide at the far post having remained in an advanced position when a corner wasn’t properly cleared and Rodak had to stretch to keep out another Browne shot after a bout of pinball had delivered the ball to the North End skipper. Christie almost broke the deadlock right on half time when he advanced into the area but his low shot across goal was well gathered by Rudd.

Fulham started the second period on the front foot but couldn’t really penetrate a resolute Preston defence with a tame header from the well-marshalled Aleksandar Mitrovic representing their only serious chance of the first ten minutes. The goal, when it came, was a complete fluke. Knockaert clipped a corner towards the near post where Nugent was stationed, but the former England international somehow managed to find the top corner with his clearing header.

Fulham then pressed for a crucial second, but despite a number of dangerous crosses nothing materialised. The best opportunities fell at the feet of Christie, who was enjoying an outstanding cameo. He fashioned the first for himself, breaking up a Preston attack on the halfway line and driving deep into North End territory before his shot was deflected behind for a corner. His follow up when the set play landed at his feet flew fractionally over the bar.

Cairney, who enjoyed another excellent game as the orchestrator of Fulham’s tempo from a deep midfield position, drove over from distance after space opened up in front of him whilst Cavaleiro, who was anonymous for long periods, slipped at the vital moment as he prepared to the pull trigger having cut inside from the left flank.

Preston piled players forward in search of a late equaliser. They went more direct in the second period but their attacking threat actually diminshed, with their only clear chance coming in the form of another Bauer header from Harrop’s free-kick that Rodak had to shovel away from danger. When they won a corner deep into the fourth minute of added time, Preston sent everyone forward only for Johnson’s blocked shot to fall for Kamara, who surged clear down the left flank, reaching the penalty area in no time at all. The Frenchman, unlucky not to start after his decisive contribution on Wednesday, sought to play in Cavaleiro, but gobbled up the return pass, powering home at the near post to make sure of the points.

FULHAM (4-3-3): Rodak; Odoi, Bryan (Christie 9), Hector, Ream; Arter (McDonald 90), Cairney, Decordova-Reid; Knockaert (Kamara 78), Cavaleiro, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, S. Sessegnon, Johansen, Kebano.

GOALS: Nugent (o.g. 58), Kamara (90+5).

PRESTON NORTH END (4-2-3-1): Rudd; Fisher, Hughes, Bauer, Davies; Johnson, Browne; Barkhuizen, Maguire (Sinclair 72), Potts (Harrop 83); Nugent (Stockley 66). Subs (not used): Ripley, Clarke, Huntingdon, Ledson.

REFEREE: David Webb

ATTENDANCE: 19,020.

Mitrovic’s late show lifts Fulham to third

Aleksandar Mitrovic has never let Fulham down. Even tonight, when it seemed his late penalty miss might make their dreams of automatic promotion even more remote, the Serbian striker popped up with a more decisive moment at the death. Mitrovic leapt high to meet Aboubakar Kamara’s inch-perfect cross and thunder home a trademark header in off the crossbar and clinch a vital three points against distraught fellow promotion chasers Swansea City.

Swansea boss Steve Cooper was as enraged as his players, who surrounded referee Tim Robinson following the final whistle, suggesting that the official had overlooked as many as three penalty appeals, whilst granting Fulham a spot-kick after Neeskens Kebano had tangled with Connor Roberts’ legs at the back post. That award certainly appeared generous – and there was an element of justice served up almost immediately when Freddie Woodman saved both Mitrovic’s unconvincing spot-kick and Kebano’s follow-up.

The penalty miss seemed to drain the life out of a Fulham side who had started at a much higher tempo than in recent weeks. But with time ticking by, Kamara grabbed his opportunity to improve. The French forward, given only eight minutes to turn what was by then a very open contest in Fulham’s favour, drove defiantly down the right and produced an outstanding cross for Mitrovic to bullet home an emphatic header having soared above Ben Cabango in the air.

There was no time for a crestfallen Swansea side to respond. Andre Ayew had to be dragged away from the officials by his team-mates, incandescent with rage at Robinson’s decision to award Fulham a penalty but reject his strong appeals at the other end. He appeared to have been crudely taken out by Denis Odoi, who slid in violently to end a slalom run that had carried him clear of Michael Hector and a couple of other Fulham challengers, as well as waving away convincing claims for handball against Joe Bryan.

Bryan produced a critical piece of defending deep into injury time to divert the ball away from Connor Gallagher as the Chelsea loanee seemed set to burst through on goal and thirty seconds later the ball was in the Swansea net. The visiting players and fans were angered by Robinson’s decision to play on – but television replays appeared to confirm that Bryan, who has been criticised for his defending this season, played the ball cleanly.

In the light of Leeds’ narrow win at relegation-threatened Middlesbrough, this proved a precious three points for Fulham. For an awfully long time, it looked like being another frustrating evening on the bitterly cold banks of the Thames. Scott Parker’s side began with purpose, with much more penetration than of late, but still lacked the decisive touch in front of goal. Woodman made a smothering save inside the first thirty seconds with Anthony Knockaert, who flattered to deceive once again, whipping in a shot at the near post.

The goalkeeper then made amends for a poor clearance by thwarting Bobby Decordova-Reid and later acrobatically tipped an inswinging Ivan Cavaleiro corner onto the crossbar. Swansea took a while to get themselves into the contest, but the visitors soon created openings of their own. Joe Rodon flicked a free-kick right across the face of goal and Ayew did brilliantly to burst away from Tim Ream and onto Gallagher’s clever flick but couldn’t find a finish after rounding Marek Rodak, allowing Odoi to nip in and clear in the nick of time.

Fulham continued to apply serious pressure of their own. Cavaleiro’s curler looped wide after Cabongo had closed the winger down effectively – bringing to an end a sweeping move that saw the Whites work their way out from the back before Cairney and Bryan fashioned the opening down the left. Mitrovic inexplicably shanked an effort wide after being released by Knockaert following a rare mistake from Joe Rodon and then volleyed fractionally over having made an opportunity all for himself: chesting down Rodak’s long kick and swivelling to shoot in an instant. Swansea could have been in front at the break, though, with former Brentford full-back Jake Bidwell heading agonisingly wide from a near post corner.

The second half didn’t quite have the same intensity to it initially, but it bubbled up nicely. The speedy Rhian Brewster, booked in the first half for a nasty lunge at Tom Cairney, fired straight at Rodak and Bryan was fortunate to survive penalty claims when he appeared to handle a cross from Jay Fulton. At the other end, Rodon produced a couple of excellent bits of defending in quick succession to repel Mitrovic and Cavaleiro.

Swansea had good chances to open the scoring on the break. Brewster spurned a good chance created by Bidwell and substitute Jordon Garrick was foiled by a great reaction save from Rodak and the offside flag. Ayew sped clear twice down the left wing, once he was denied by Rodak, and then by the referee when he was sent sprawling to the turf by Odoi’s ill-judged lunge.

The spot-kick actually arrived at the other end, when Robinson pointed for a penalty after two substitutes collided at the far post. It seemed an accidental tangling of legs between Kebano and Roberts, but the referee was adamant. Mitrovic went for placement rather than power and Woodman palmed away both the penalty and the rebound – only to be beaten at the very last by the Serbian’s moment of redemption.

FULHAM (4-3-3): Rodak; Odoi, Bryan, Hector, Ream; Arter (McDonald 90+5), Cairney, Decordova-Reid; Knockaert (Kamara 83), Cavaleiro (Kebano 78), Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Christie, S. Sessegnon, Johansen.

GOAL: Mitrovic (90+4).

SWANSEA CITY (4-2-3-1): Woodman; Naughton (Roberts 82), Bidwell, Cabango, Rodon; Grimes, Fulton; Kalulu (Garrick 64), Ayew, Gallagher; Brewster. Subs (not used): Mulder, Wilmot, Dhanda, Cullen, Dyer.

BOOKED: Brewster, Fulton, Naughton, Ayew.

REFEREE: Tim Robinson (West Sussex).

ATTENDANCE: 17,626.

Rodak redeems himself

Marek Rodak redeemed himself by making a string of fine saves as Fulham fought back to claim a point at Derby County this evening. The Slovakian goalkeeper, who endured an error-strewn afternoon as bottom of the table Barnsley romped to victory at Craven Cottage last weekend, made three outstanding stops to prevent Philip Cocu’s side from adding to a lead supplied by a cheeky paneka penalty from Wayne Rooney, making his 500th league appearance in English football.

Aleksandar Mitrovic, as he so often does, came to Fulham’s rescue – reviving a rather timid performance with a stroke of magic to guide in Aboubakar Kamara’s cross for the equaliser. The Serbian’s 22nd Championship goal of the season set up a grandstand finish during which either side could have won it, but both ultimately had to settle for what was a frustrating point. The result means Scott Parker’s side are two points behind second-placed Leeds, who host Reading tomorrow afternoon.

It could have been much worse for the visitors who, despite enjoying the lion’s share of the possession against another of the division’s footballing sides, struggled to create clear-cut chances. It was Derby, far more incisive in the final third, who fashioned the game’s better openings. Rodak was called into action first on eleven minutes when a clever Rooney cross was diverted goalwards by Tom Lawrence, who had incredibly shot out of the stadium when presented with the evening’s first chance.

Lawrence, playing wider than he would prefer to order to accommodate Rooney, then saw a 20-yard drive deflected agonisingly wide. The home side were growing in confidence and one majestic move saw Rooney release full back Craig Forsyth into the inside-left challenge but his low cross only just eluded Martyn Waghorn in the middle. Rodak then made a wonderful save at full stretch to preserve parity when Matt Clarke reached a free-kick at the far post and looked to have turned it home at full stretch.

Fulham’s brightest moments involved Mitrovic, who still seemed far too isolated to be a regular threat. He was denied by an intelligent piece of defending from Curtis Davies but, after a sweeping break, nearly diverted Anthony Knockaert’s cross goalwards before heading a Bobby Decordova-Reid delivery straight at Ben Hamer in the Derby goal.

It was Cocu’s team that finished the first period on the front foot. Waghorn battled to win the ball back for Derby inside his own half and the hosts probed patiently for an opening before Lawrence unleashed a low drive from just inside the box that Rodak palmed aside.

The game followed a similar pattern after the restart with Derby looking the more lively in front of goal as Fulham’s rather ponderous passing seemed to be leading nowehere. Andre Wisdom wasted a glorious opportunity on the edge of the Fulham box, blazing wildly over when he could have chosen to pass to one of three team-mates in good positions, but Derby weren’t ruing their defender’s lack of composure for too long.

The opening goal arrived ten minutes after the break – and through a mess of Fulham’s own making. The visitors attempted to play their way out from the back with another short goal kick but Joe Bryan’s risky pass went astray. Waghorn turned Tim Ream in the area and referee Darren Bond penalised the American centre back for what seemed a rather harsh handball. Rooney, a regular scourge of Fulham over the years, impudently chipped home the penalty over a helpless Rodak.

That setack did at least serve to enliven Fulham. Mitrovic floated a free-kick towards the top corner that Hamer plucked out of the air and the Serbian couldn’t quite get to another inviting Bryan cross with Hamer doing his best to put him off. Parker sent on Kamara and Ivan Cavaleiro in a bid to find a leveller – and the changes worked within five minutes. Both substitutes were involved in the move that led to Mitrovic produced a wonderfully controlled volley into the bottom corner from Kamara’s rather speculative cross, with Cavaleiro’s purposeful run and shot rebonding kindly for the Frenchman.

Fulham might have had a second with seven minutes to play when Kevin McDonald’s searching forward ball sent Kamara haring towards the Derby box. The ball fell nicely for Cavaleiro, who should have done better than lash over the bar from the edge of the area. Derby weren’t content to shut up shop and settle for a point – Odoi blocked a Rooney strike before Rodak made outrageous stops to first keep out a rocket from young Max Bird and then readjust in the nick of time to bundle Davies’ attempted finish away from behind him as it looked certain to nestle in the net. The young goalkeeper even scrambled across his line to keep out Lawrence’s corner in stoppage time to preserve parity.

DERBY COUNTY (4-2-3-1): Hamer; Wisdom, Forsyth, Davies, Clarke; Shinnie, Bird; Knight (Jozefzoon 78), Lawrence, Rooney; Waghorn (Marriott 78). Subs (not used): Roos, Lowe, Bogle, Sibley, Martin.

GOAL: Rooney (pen 54).

FULHAM (4-3-3): Rodak; Odoi, Bryan, Hector, Ream; Arter (McDonald 81), Johansen (Kamara 65), Cairney; Knockaert (Cavaleiro 66), Decordova-Reid, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Christie, S. Sessegnon, Kebano.

BOOKED: Arter.

GOAL: Mitrovic (71).

REFEREE: Darren Bond (Lancashire).

ATTENDANCE: 25,442.