Referee robs Fulham of stirring comeback

Fulham were denied a share of spoils as Bristol City left Craven Cottage with all three points when referee Jeremy Simpson failed to award what appeared a stonewall penalty in stoppage time. Scott Parker’s side might have pinched a point having handed the visitors a two-goal lead, but were left to reflect on might have been as the officials left the pitch to a cacophony of boos.

Parker might also pause to consider his own team selection after his decision to retain Josh Onomah behind Aleksandar Mitrovic and leave Aboubakar Kamara on the bench left Fulham looking toothless in attack for the majority of the match. Only once Kamara was summoned from the bench did the home side seriously look like breaching Bristol City’s well-drilled defence – and the Frenchman’s 86th minute close range finish set up a frantic finale.

Simpson, who had long since lost control of a contest that previously been played in a good spirit, somehow waved play on when substitute Neeskens Kebano was felled in the box by Callum O’Dowda. There was no booking for simulation for the Congolese winger, but a card followed for captain Tom Cairney who led a swarm of Fulham protests. Just to prove it wasn’t going to be Fulham’s day, Kebano rattled the crossbar with a looping header in the fourth minute of added time.

Lee Johnson’s men underlined their own play-off credentials with a fifth consecutive win at Craven Cottage. City were patient in possession and able to soak up an early spell of Fulham pressure, with the recalled Anthony Knockaert scooping a dangerous cross from former Robin Joe Bryan over the bar from six yards out. Stefan Johansen than steered a pass over the City defence to free Ivan Caveleiro and, although the winger’s shot squeezed past David Bentley, Jack Hunt was able to clear from underneath his own crossbar.

City looked potent enough going forward themselves. They created early jitters in the Fulham defence with a frenetic high pass and began to prey on those nerves. Famara Diedhiou perhaps should have put the away side by converting Niclas Eliasson’s cross, but directed his header straight at Marek Rodak, who was alert enough to prevent Andreas Weimann from snaffling up the rebound.

Fulham didn’t heed the warning, however, and were behind following Bristol City’s next attack. Eliasson was the provider again – with a floated ball from the left this time after Denis Odoi could only half clear – and this time Josh Brownhill darted between the home centre backs to head home. City were content to sit deep and let Fulham have plenty of possession and, whilst they threatened to double their lead on the break, the closest Parker’s men came to an equaliser before half time was a wild shot from Odoi that flew high into the Putney End.

Knockaert squandered a glorious chance to level matters a minute after the interval. Cavaleiro weighted a lovely ball in between the Bristol City defence to send the Frenchman in on goal, but Knockaert dithered as Bentley advanced and the former Brentford goalkeeper was equal to his eventual side-footed effort. Five minutes later and Mitrovic spurned a fine opening as well – sending a free header over the crossbar from Bryan’s beautifully floated cross.

Fulham were gradually beginning to turn the screw. Mitrovic, so well marshalled by the Bristol City defenders in the first half, brought down a through ball by Johansen and drove towards the penalty area before shooting over as red shirts converged on him. He almost got on the end of a gorgeous cross from Knockaert but the ball had a touch too much pace on it as the Serb slide in at the back post. Bentley was equal to a trademark Cairney curler from the edge box – but the visitors were now being penned back in their own half.

Just as Fulham looked likely to grab an equaliser, they conceded a critical second. A slick move down the right unlocked the home defence. Brownhill’s deft backheel released Adam Nagy, who strode away from Tim Ream, and delivered a low cross from the byline that was tapped home by Diedhou, who had been left completely unattended at the back post.

There seemed scant hope of a Fulham fightback, especially when Johansen had a goal disallowed for a push by Mitrovic at the near post. But Fulham kept plugging away and Kamara was quickest to react, giving them a lifeline after Bentley had made an excellent save from Kebano. The five minutes of added time contained no end of drama, as Simpson waved yellow cards often like confetti both before and after Fulham’s penalty shout.

Kebano, who had already frightened the visitors during an impressive cameo, had little reason to go down as he sought an equaliser, but he was clearly clipped by O’Dowda. Simpson immediately waved away the appeals, which brought a prolonged period of protests from the Fulham players. Kebano’s fury was only increased moments later when his header from a fine Cyrus Christie cross came back off the crossbar with Bentley beaten.

FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Odoi (Christie 87), Bryan, Mawson, Ream; Johansen, Cairney; Knockaert, Cavaleiro (Kebano 82), Onomah (Kamara 68), Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, S. Sessegnon, O’Riley, de la Torre.

BOOKED: Odoi, Knockaert, Cairney, Johansen, Rodak, Mawson.

GOAL: Kamara (86).

BRISTOL CITY (4-3-3): Bentley; Hunt (Moore 90), Rowe, Williams, Baker; Brownhill, Massengo, Nagy (Smith 87); Weimann, Eliasson (O’Dowda 78), Diedhou. Subs (not used): Mäenpää, Pereira, Palmer, Semenyo.

BOOKED: Eliasson, Hunt.

GOALS: Brownhill (26), Diedhou (76).

REFEREE: Jeremy Simpson (Lancashire).

ATTENDANCE: 18,779.

Mitrovic brace sinks Swansea

Another double from Aleksandar Mitrovic sealed a smash and grab raid for Fulham at their promotion rivals Swansea City this evening.

The Londoners were indebted to the Serbian striker’s ruthless finishing as they built a two-goal cushion at half-time despite being largely outplayed by Steve Cooper’s side in south Wales. Marek Rodak showed exactly why Scott Parker has recently installed him as Fulham’s number one with a number of crucial saves as the Swans both dominated possession and carved out several promising opportunities.

The home side were in enterprising mood from the off but couldn’t find a way past the Slovakian international goalkeeper. Rodak produced an outstanding reaction save to deny Sam Sturridge when he looked certain to score at the back post after a fine cross from Andre Ayew and then recovered swiftly to turn aside a low drive from Kyle Naughton in the next phase of play. Byers couldn’t punish a rare mistake from Rodak when the Fulham keeper’s lax clearance fell to Matt Grimes, with the impressive midfielder striking the outside of the post from 20 yards out.

Fulham looked fragile at the back but weathered the early storm and hit the front with their first serious foray forward. A flowing team move worked space for Joe Bryan down the left and when Aboubakar Kamara’s venomous volley came back off the crossbar, Mitrovic reacted quickest to head home the rebound inside the six-yard box. The goal visibly lifted the visitors, who began to get their crisp passing going, and Fulham found a sucker punch just before the break.

Parker’s side pressed Swansea high up the pitch, with Josh Onomah capitalising on a poor pass from Kristoffer Peterson to play Ivan Cavaleiro in down the inside right channel. There was a little bit of fortune as Cavaleiro’s cross found its way to Mitrovic via an Onomah airshot, but the Serbian striker needed no encouragement to fire his fifteenth goal of the season high into the top corner.

Swansea could justifiably feel aggrieved at being two goals down on the balance of play and they reemerged for the second half seeking an immediate riposte. A couple of teasing balls from Peterson wouldn’t drop for the likes of Ayew or Surridge in the box and the hosts couldn’t switch off at the other end as Fulham’s threat on the counter-attack nearly delivered a third when Bryan’s low cross only just eluded a sliding Mitrovic at the far post.

Freddie Woodman then produced a smart diving save to keep the hosts in the contest after Cavaleiro had turned teenage defender Ben Wilmot inside out. Swansea continued to push for a route back into the contest with Byers bringing the very best out of Rodak after being teed up by Ayew on the edge of the Fulham area. Byers’ clever curler looked destined for the bottom corner, but Rodak turned it aside.

Swansea did establish a lifeline seven minutes later when they got their reward for not letting their heads drop. Substitute Barrie McKay drilled a free-kick into the wall, but floated a far more dangerous delivery in from the rebound and Byers drifted behind Alfie Mawson to head home despite Rodak’s desperate attempts to keep it out.

Belief suddenly surged through the Liberty Stadium and Swansea began to pen Fulham, who switched to a back three in a bid to cling onto their advnatage, back. Denis Odoi bravely blocked a Jay Fulton shot at source on his hundredth start for the club, whilst a sea of bodies prevented Surridge from converting Mike van der Horn’s cross. There appeared to be a great opening at the end of five minutes of added time when a glorious pass from Tom Carroll sent McKay clear down the left, but the resultant cross was woefully overhit.

Fulham’s fortitude helped their secure a fourth consecutive win for the first time since April 2018 and allowed Parker’s side to close the gap to second-placed Leeds to just two points. After a slow start, the Whites are certainly in the Championship promotion race.

SWANSEA CITY (4-2-3-1): Woodman; Roberts, Naughton, van der Horn, Wilmot; Fulton (Carroll 74), Grimes; A. Ayew, Peterson (McKay 57), Byers; Surridge (Baston 84). Subs (not used): Nordfeldt, Bidwell, Cabango. Celina.

GOAL: Byers (65).

FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Odoi, Bryan, Mawson, Ream; Johansen, Cairney; Onomah (Christie 79), Kamara (McDonald 74), Cavaleiro (Knockaert 85); Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, O’Riley, Kebano, de la Torre.

BOOKED: Kamara.

GOAL: Mitrovic (22, 42).

REFEREE: Simon Hooper (Wiltshire).

ATTENDANCE: 16,024.

Whites cruise past Derby and up to third

Fulham swatted aside Derby County’s challenge with a swagger at Craven Cottage this evening – easily recording their third consecutive league win and moving up to third in the Championship table.

Scott Parker’s side strolled to a comfortable victory courtesy of Bobby Decordova-Reid’s first goal since moving from Cardiff on loan in the summer, a trademark header from the returning Aleksandar Mitrovic and Tom Cairney’s clinical conversion of a sweeping counter-attack in the closing stages. This was the perfect way for Fulham to prepare for an intriguing trip to promotion rivals Swansea City on Friday night, although Parker will need to check on the fitness of Aboubakar Kamara and Decordova-Reid after both were forced off with injuries during the second half.

Parker’s decision to place his faith in Kamara after his match-winning brace against QPR on Friday night paid handsome dividends. The Frenchman replaced his compatriot Anthony Knockaert on the right flank and turned in a dynamic display, creating the first goal with a gorgeous cross, and proving a real handful for the Derby defence. He was substituted after being caught by the follow-through of Curtis Davies’ robust sliding challenge and must be a doubt for the trip to south Wales.

Derby posed very little threat throughout, with former Fulham striker Chris Martin largely anonymous on his return to the Cottage, but they should have taken the lead inside the opening five minutes. Duane Holmes robbed Denis Odoi of possession and Max Lowe crossed perfectly for Tom Lawrence, but the Welsh midfielder scuffed his shot well wide from five yards out.

The hosts were ruthless in response. It took two minutes for them to go ahead as Derby struggled to reorganise once Krystian Bielik had headed away a corner. Kamara floated in a menacing cross from the right and Decordova-Reid, arriving late having shrugged off the attentions of George Evans, poked a finish past a stranded Kelle Roos.

The Derby goalkeeper did then manage to bail out Davies after Decordova-Reid seized on his short back pass and threatened to double his tally, before he dived full length to turn away a venomous effort from Ivan Cavaleiro after fine approach play from the rampaging Kamara. Three minutes later, the French forward had a try from distance himself but Roos was easily able to field the effort.

But Derby’s defence was breached again five minutes before the break. Cavaleiro lifted a cross towards the far post, where Mitrovic glanced his header into the bottom corner of the net, having been left staggeringly unattended by the visiting back line. Tom Cairney might have made it three in first-half stoppage time but his curler from the edge of the box just cleared the crossbar.

The second period began into a similar vein. Mitrovic and Kamara combined smartly before the Serbian striker was foiled by an excellent reaction save from Roos. He felt he should have grabbed a second when he ghosted away from his marker to meet Joe Bryan’s free-kick but instead headed over from five yards out.

After Kamara’s evening was prematurely cut short, Knockaert attempted to leave his mark on proceedings. He linked up effectively with Cavaleiro almost instantly, but the Portuguese winger’s effort looped off the retreating Jayden Bogle and flew wide. Knockaert spurned three openings to kill off Derby, with Roos saving smartly at his near post, whilst two more efforts were off target.

The clinching third goal followed a period of sustained Derby probing that didn’t unduly trouble Marek Rodak in the Fulham goal. Instead, the home side profited from a poor clearance by Roos as he tried to get the Rams moving forward. Mitrovic carried the ball deep into Derby territory and drew two defenders before playing in Cairney and the captain calmly threaded his finish between the goalkeeper’s legs to more accurately reflect the gulf between these two sides.

FULHAM (4-3-3): Rodak; Odoi, Bryan, Mawson, Ream; Johansen, Decordova-Reid (Onomah 60), Cairney; Kamara (Knockaert 54), Cavaleiro (Christie 80), Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, McDonald, O’Riley, Kebano.

BOOKED: Cavaleiro.

GOALS: Decordova-Reid (7), Mitrovic (40), Cairney (89).

DERBY COUNTY (4-2-3-1): Roos; Bogle, Lowe, Davies, Forsyth; Evans (Dowell 62), Bielik; Waghorn, Holmes (Marriott 77), Lawrence; Martin (Whittaker 59). Subs (not used): Hamer, Malone, Bird, Paterson.

BOOKED: Forsyth, Dowell.

REFEREE: Andy Woolmer (Northamptonshire).

ATTENDANCE: 16,856.

Mitrovic beats Blues

Aleksandar Mitrovic’s twelfth goal of the season helped Fulham to a gritty win over Birmingham City this afternoon in the teeming rain. The Serbian striker capitalised on an error from Blues’ goalkeeper Lee Camp, who spilled Cyrus Christie’s cross, clinically firing home the winner from close range. The only dampener on the afternoon for Scott Parker was Mitrovic’s fifth booking of the season – after a clash with Jude Bellingham – that rules him out of the upcoming local derby with QPR.

Mitrovic, who captained the side in the absence of the ill Tom Cairney, had a storming game up front for the visitors. He had a goal ruled out for offside after ten minutes and frequently linked up effectively with Bobby Decordova-Reid, who went agonisingly close to opening his Fulham account but steered wide on the stretch inside the six-yard box. After the break, Mitrovic did brilliantly to flick another ball into Decordova-Reid’s path but Camp stood up for long enough to repel the shot.

The decisive moment came seven minutes in the second half. Christie, on as an early substitute for Maxime Le Marchand, burst clear down the right flank but his cross appeared to be simple for Camp to deal with at the back post, only for the Northern Ireland international to fumble it and Mitrovic tucked away the loose ball with aplomb.

Fulham passed up several good opportunities to extend their lead. Camp let a Christie header spill out of grasp and Anthony Knockaert’s attempted chip deflected wide. The unlikely source of Denis Odoi almost supplied a second but his rasping drive from the edge of the box flew narrowly off target. Mitrovic created the best opening with a sublime through ball in the second minute of stoppage time, but Aboubakar Kamara was denied by an excellent save from Camp, who got a crucial touch to the Frenchman’s finish with his feet – diverting onto the base of the post.

At the other end, Marek Rodak, who came back in for Marcus Bettinelli after his suspension for being sent off at Middlesbrough, produced a mature performance to repel a lively Blues’ attack. The Slovakian made a smart save to deny left back Kristian Pedersen after three minutes and the home side stepped up the pressure after that in a ten minute spell when they penned Fulham back. Former Arsenal youngster Dan Crowley drilled over from twenty minutes and Rodak made a couple of good stops in quick succession as he fielded a shot from Kerim Mrabti and then pushed away Fran Villalba’s volley.

Birmingham pushed for an equaliser with sending on Jeremie Bela, who had joined on a free transfer in midweek, and Jefferson Montero. The latter almost produced a goal with his first touch as his floated cross found Lukasz Jutkiewicz  at the far post, but Rodak reacted quickly to turn the striker’s header onto the crossbar. Fulham held firm during five nervy minutes of stoppage time to record their second clean sheet in as many away games and tiptoe into the top six.

BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-2-3-1): Camp; Colin, Pedersen, Roberts, Clarke-Salter; Sunjic, Bellingham; Crowley (Gimenez 64), Villalba (Montero 79), Mrbati (Bela 62); Jutkiewicz. Subs (not used): Trueman, Harding, Davis, Maghoma.

BOOKED: Bellingham, Clarke-Salter, Roberts.

FULHAM (4-3-3): Rodak; Odoi, Le Marchand (Christie 35), Mawson, Ream; Reed, Johansen, Decordova-Reid (Kamara 81); Knockaert, Cavaleiro (Onomah 66), Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, McDonald, de la Torre, Kebano.

BOOKED: Mitrovic, Christie.

GOAL: Mitrovic (52).

REFEREE: Jarred Gillett (Australia).

ATTENDANCE: 21,334.

Tenacious Tigers punish flat Fulham

This was the most dispiriting defeat of the season for Scott Parker. Any positives from last weekend’s battling point at Middlesbrough, where the Whites held out for more than seventy minutes with ten men, were swept away as Hull underlined their own promotion credentials with a polished performance well worthy of picking up all three points at Craven Cottage.

Parker can ill afford many more slip ups with a testing run of fixtures in the lead up to Christmas. Fulham’s faltering start to the season has yet to prove terminal to their hopes of returning to the Premier League, largely as a result of no clear front runner emerging in the promotion race, but – with Shahid Khan and Tony Khan in attendance ahead of the Jaguars’ visit to London this weekend – this was a poor time to put in their worst performance of the campaign.

The home side never really recovered from the early loss of Joe Bryan, who sustained a shoulder injury in a high challenge with Josh Bowler. His replacement Maxime Le Marchand never looked comfortable at left back and was beaten far too easily at the far post by Bowler when Kamil Grosicki, who had seen an early shot saved by Marcus Bettinelli, and Callum Elder cleverly worked an opening on the left. The ball ricocheted off the Frenchman but Bowler was quickest to react – volleying his first senior goal beyond Bettinelli with aplomb.

Grant McCann’s side would have been forgiven for protecting their precious lead, but buoyed by their recent victories over Nottingham Forest and Derby County, they were eager to add to their lead. The Tigers were a threat throughout on the counter attack and might have extended their advantage before half-time had the impressive Jarrod Bowen not inadvertently blocked a shot from Jon Toral.

Fulham again enjoyed more than the lion’s share of possession, but struggled to do anything with it. Their passing was well below par, typified by a hesitant performance from captain Tom Cairney in the middle of the park. Aleksandar Mitrovic looked horribly isolated up front, with Bobby Decordova-Reid sacrificed for Anthony Knockaert at half-time in search of more creativity. Parker’s side managed just one shot on target in the ninety minutes – a simple save for George Long when Mitrovic spun away for his man to finish the one first-half move of note – but the Serbian spurned an even better opportunity when he headed a corner wide from close range at the end of the first half.

The home side were looking much livelier at the beginning of the second half, but some excellent defending from the outstanding Jordy de Vijs and a lack of a telling final ball preserved Hull’s lead. Parker’s side huffed and puffed but they were picked off by a clinical counter-attack. Jackson Irvine bisected the Fulham defence with a beautifully measured pass and Bowen, a menace all afternoon, found the bottom corner with the coolest of finishes.

To all intents and purposes, that was the game done and dusted. Parker sent on Aboubakar Kamara but Fulham’s surfeit of forwards seemed only to get in each other’s way. Hull looked the likelier to add to the scoreline and the classy Grosicki was unfortunate not to a grab for himself when he strode past Denis Odoi and drove wide of the near post.

Fulham’s final indignity was the calamitous nature of Hull’s third goal six minutes from the end. Bowen burst through the remnants of the home defence and, although Bettinelli saved the Welsh forward’s low shot with his feet, the rebound fell kindly for substitute Tom Eaves, who had the simplest of finishes from close range. On this evidence, McCann’s men look a far surer bet for the play-offs than their hosts.

FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; Odoi (Kamara 61), Bryan (Le Marchand 6), Mawson, Ream; Reed, Johansen, Cairney; Decordova-Reid (Knockaert 45), Cavaleiro, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Norman, S. Sessegnon, McDonald, Onomah.

BOOKED: Reed, Johansen.

HULL CITY (4-2-3-1): Long; Lichai, Elder, Burke, de Wijs; Da Silva Lopes, Irvine (Honeyman 88); Grosicki, Bowler (Eaves 54), Toral; Bowen. Subs (not used): Ingram, Tafazolli, Pennington, Batty.

BOOKED: Irvine, Eaves.

GOALS: Bowler (9), Bowen (57), Eaves (84).

REFEREE: Keith Stroud (Bournemouth).

ATTENDANCE: 18,186.