Bettinelli blunder costs Fulham dear

A terrible goalkeeping error from Marcus Bettinelli cost Fulham the chance of ending West Brom’s unbeaten start to the season as Scott Parker’s side had to settle for a point having dominated the Championship’s early kick off this afternoon.

Bettinelli, who was furious at the award of the goal having felt he had been impeded by Charlie Austin as he tried to reach Matheus Pereira’s corner, only managed the tamest of contacts and allowed Semi Ajayi to head home the simplest of equalisers. The tall centre back was delighted to score his first goal for West Bromwich Albion, who were rewarded with a point for their late pressure on the Fulham goal.

The home side looked likely winners once Anthony Knockaert chipped Sam Johnstone from a tight angle outside the penalty area four minutes after half-time, although the on-loan winger later confessed that he was trying to find a team-mate at the far post. The goal was fitting reward for Fulham’s first-half dominance, but it would have worried Parker that his side are still labouring fruitlessly in front of goal despite enjoying so much possession.

Slaven Bilic’s side were disciplined in defence and set up to try and frustrate Fulham but the home side still fashioned a number of chances as they probed away patiently. Ivan Cavaleiro, who endured a frustrating afternoon out wide as he struggled to find a final ball, had a couple of early shots blocked and then an outstanding tackle from Nathan Ferguson denied Bobby Decordova-Reid as he prepared to pull the trigger.

Fulham should have taken the lead midway through the first half when a brilliant bit of vision by Harrison Reed freed Tom Cairney in behind the Baggies defence. The Fulham skipper opted to go high as he bore down on Sam Johnstone but the West Brom goalkeeper managed to tip his finish onto the bar. The former Aston Villa custodian then produced a couple of excellent reaction saves to deny Knockaert and Decordova-Reid in quick succession.

The pattern persisted into the second period, with a desperate lunge from Ajayi almost ending up in his own net as he tried to deal with a dangerous cross from Joe Bryan. Johnstone gathered a downward header from Mitrovic from a set play but Knockaert’s opportunistic finish appeared to set Fulham on the way towards three points – although Parker’s side failed to find the killer instinct.

The expected surge of Fulham pressure never really materialised with Johnstone turning over a Decordova-Reid shot on the turn and a long-range effort by Bryan was deflected wide. Instead, Albion were rejuvenated by Bilic’s double change midway through the second half when he threw on Kyle Edwards and Filip Krovinovic to inject some life into their attack.

Darnell Furlong flashed a drive into the side netting, but Fulham failed to heed the warning and retreated deeper and deeper. Ajayi nodded in the equaliser and the Baggies might well have nicked a winner as well when Furlong headed agonisingly wide from another Pereira corner. Fulham will need to be much more assertive if they have serious ambitions of joining the automatic promotion race.

FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; S. Sessegnon (Odoi 90), Bryan, Mawson, Ream; Reed, Decordova-Reid (Onomah 85), Cairney; Knockaert, Cavaleiro, Mitrovic. Subs (not used); Rodak, Le Marchand, McDonald, Johansen, Kamara.

BOOKED: S. Sessegnon, Odoi.

GOAL: Knockaert (49).

WEST BROMWICH ALBION (4-2-3-1): Johnstone; Furlong, Ajayi, Bartley, Ferguson; Livermore (Krovinovic 59), Sawyers; Phillips (Edwards 59), Pereira, Diangana (Robson-Kanu 69); Austin. Subs (not used): Bond, O’Shea, Brunt, Zohore.

BOOKED: Furlong.

GOAL: Ajayi (80).

REFEREE: David Webb (Lancashire).

ATTENDANCE: 17,770.

Fulham’s fortitude is a positive sign

The overwhelming emotion after Fulham’s draw at Cardiff City on Friday was one of frustration. Disappointment after a chance to take all three points from a potential promotion rival slipped away. Anger at an experienced professional like Harry Arter, whose lack of awareness moments after being booked drew him into a situation where a red card placed his side’s position in doubt. Opporbrium towards another referee who appeared eager to book Fulham players, but showed a single yellow to a Cardiff man despite their sixteen fouls. Angst after Fulham played in fits and starts and never really worked up a head of steam after cancelling out a very preventable opener scored by Josh Murphy.

But strip out the raw emotion and there are some positives to be found. Mostly, in terms of the character of a side that found themselves under serious pressure, a man down in the final quarter, and remained unbowed. It was right that Scott Parker lauded the resolve of his players after the final whistle – there’s no doubt that last season’s Fulham side would have folded in a similar scenario. Tim Ream, Alfie Mawson and Joe Bryan were excellent in defence – whilst Aleksandar Mitrovic’s ability to do unglamorous defensive work at set plays played a crucial part in the closing stages. This was a precious point to cling onto – that could so easily have slipped away.

Parker managed the game well, too, following Arter’s moment of madness in the corner. He immediately recognised Fulham’s predicament called for Stefan Johansen’s tireless running after the Norwegian had been left out of the starting line-up. The removal of Ivan Cavaleiro and Anthony Knockaert made sense as did the decision to shore up the defence with the late introduction of Maxime Le Marchand. The Fulham manager might have voiced his frustration with how his side had used their attacking weapons in the first half, but his players saw out the game professionally in a hostile environment, limiting Cardiff to just two clear-cut chances. For a team with definite defensive frailties that was particularly encouraging.

There are, of course, still things to work on. Fulham don’t move the ball as quickly as they might when probing for an opening, a point picked up on by Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink during his television punditry. It certainly seemed that they didn’t utilise the potency of their wingers regularly enough last night – and left Mitrovic starved of the sort of service he thrives upon. Fulham’s goal was a thing of beauty, but it was too much of a rarity given the way Parker wants his team to play.

To go behind having dominated both proceedings and possession was a real kick in the teeth, but the goal was a calamity. Ream and Mawson are excellent with the ball at their feet for centre halves but the more direct ball to Cavaleiro was a risky one with Harrison Reed, who looked largely anonymous on his first start, Arter and Cairney all unavailable for a short pass. Cavaleiro surrendered possession far too cheaply on his own halfway line and the defensive line was horribly exposed, with Mawson much deeper than his colleagues. Steven Sessegnon, who looked lively at the other end of the pitch, had ventured forward leaving Josh Murphy with a run through to the penalty area, which Mawson only belated attempted to narrow. The winger’s shot was not firmly into the corner by any means – and questions can rightly be asked of Marcus Bettinelli’s positioning and his failure to stop the shot. Such analysis might seem harsh, but the Championship is an unforgiving league – and opponents will relish highlighting any deficiencies.

But the toughness of a team is measured in how they respond to adversity. Bettinelli answered with a magnificent reaction save to keep the deficit at one – and his team-mates went up the other end to score a goal of exquisite quality. The approach play from the back was a little more direct, both Mitrovic and Cavaleiro wandered menacingly towards the box and two lovely touches from Cairney and the Portuguese winger laid a simple finish on a plate for the Serbian striker. Fulham’s frustration will have been that they weren’t able to build on this platform in the second half.

The visitors’ riposte was encouraging. After a shaky start at Barnsley, Fulham have put together a decent opening month. Today’s games will adjust the early league table somewhat, but ten points from six games gives Parker, still a remarkably inexperienced manager lest we forget, something to build upon. He has clearly sought to go back to the Jokanovic playbook in a bid to loose the shackles on Fulham’s most adventurous players and there will still be a lag time in terms of getting his ideas across.

But Fulham, notoriously slow starters to Championship seasons, have shown enough of that silky football to suggest that they can feature heavily in the promotion picture. And if Parker can align that flowing football with the sort of steel shown in the second half in Wales last night then the results could be worth watching as autumn gives way to winter.

Parker questions Arter dismissal

Scott Parker questioned referee Tim Robinson’s decision to send off Harry Arter after the Whites clung on for a point on a tempestuous night in Cardiff.

The Fulham midfielder, who spent last season on loan with the Bluebirds, was shown a second yellow card for simulation after clashing with Cardiff captain Sean Morrison. Parker felt that there was contact on his player and suggested that the referee might have been too hasty in pulling out his cards.

The question you have to ask yourself is: did he get touched? If he’s got touched, then it’s a foul. Now maybe he has gone down a little bit late, but if he doesn’t go down then they get a corner. I understand what we’re saying here, but if he’s been touched, then it’s a foul. The big question is, has he touched him? And for me, [Morrison’s] clearly gone across him and affected him. That’s just my point, that’s how I see it.

You need to understand, this game’s being played at a ridiculous pace, and when we look at things nice and slow in replays, frame by frame, of course things always look worse. At the end of the day, when the player’s on the field running at pace… Look, I see it for what it is, I understand that, but my point is that if he’s been touched then it’s a foul.

The Fulham manager felt that the dismissal was the pivotal moment in a match that his side had largely dominated until that point – but he was pleased with Fulham’s application as they hung on for a precious point.

It definitely cost us, for sure. I thought first half we were poor and I was really disappointed with us at half-time. Second half we got more control, played the ball a little more, waited for our moment, moved them around a little bit more, and if let like we got a foothold in the game, and I just felt it was a matter of time until we got on top of that.

And then going down to 10 men against a team like Cardiff, a tough opposition, they put a lot of pressure on us, and ultimately I look at it as a point well gained.

Ten-man Fulham fight for a point

Fulham have long been applauded for their artistry with the ball, but Scott Parker’s side had to show guts and organisation tonight as they left Cardiff with a precious point having been reduced to ten men midway through the second half when Harry Arter was shown a second yellow card for simulation.

The Irish international was dismissed after tumbling to the floor following a challenge from Cardiff captain Sean Morrison. The assistant referee, closest to the incident by the corner flag, signalled for a corner to the home side, whilst the referee Tim Robinson initially appeared to give a free kick to Fulham, before changing his mind and fumbling in his pocket for his cards. Arter’s dismissal meant the Londoners had to show considerable fortitude to cling on for a draw, with Morrison missing the clearest opportunity – sending a late header wide after being left unattended at the back post.

The frenzied finale stood in stark contrast to the first period, where Fulham had dominated possession and spurned several chances to open the scoring. A perfectly weighted through ball from Tom Cairney sent Joe Bryan storming into the Cardiff box, but the Fulham full back was denied by a sprawling save from Alex Smithies at his near post. Three minutes later, Ivan Cavaleiro kept his feet in the area despite being hauled back by Morrison and crossed for Anthony Knockaert, who saw his first shot blocked before firing the rebound wide with his right foot.

There was a variation to Fulham’s subtle build up when Mitrovic nearly flicked a more direct ball from Alfie Mawson over Smithies but Cardiff goalkeeper was alert to the danger. Another flowing move saw Mitrovic produce a superb spin at the back post to work a shooting opportunity, but the Serbian striker then produced something of a tame effort when he pulled the trigger.

Cardiff struggled for a sight of goal for much of the half although a mistake from Mawson almost let the home side in, only for the former Swansea centre half to atone in the nick of time with a fine saving challenge as Robert Glatzel lined up a shot. After all of Fulham’s possession they fell behind on the stroke of half-time when Aiden Flint nicked the ball away from Cavaleiro as he tried to turn on the halfway line and freed Josh Murphy with a threaded ball down the left. Murphy sauntered into the box and, after Mawson failed to narrow the angle, drove a shot across Marcus Bettinelli and into the far corner. The Fulham goalkeeper got a hand to the effort – and probably should have kept it out.

Parker’s side might have been two down just moments later. This time, Bettinelli got his angles right at his near post and pushed away Glatzel’s close-range effort as he appeared certain to open his Cardiff account. The visitors showed great character to level matters almost instantaneously, with a flowing move culminating in a moment of Cairney magic to free Cavaleiro, whose first-time cross was clinically converted by Mitrovic for his fifth goal in as many games.

Fulham picked up where they had left off in the second half, although Neil Warnock’s side did at least manage to limit the number of clear-cut opportunities. Steven Sessegnon created one superbly for Mitrovic, who found half a yard of space but saw his shot deflected wide. The former Newcastle forward then turned creator for Arter, who screwed a drive wide from a promising position, before the former Cardiff loanee was shown two yellow cards in quick succession to put Fulham’s position under considerable question.

Referee Robertson, who had proven reluctant to deal with Cardiff’s physical approach all evening, somehow missed Lee Peltier wrestling Mitrovic to floor at the far post as Fulham mounted a rare attack – and the Whites bravely resisted a late Cardiff onslaught. Glatzel sent a free header a couple of yards wide, before Morrison missed the target at the back stick as he augmented the hosts’ attack in search of a winner.

Parker remonstrated with the officials after the final whistle, but the Fulham boss will have been pleased with side’s fight to claim a point that looked unlikely after Arter’s ill-judged indiscretion.

CARDIFF CITY (4-2-3-1): Smithies; Peltier, Bennett, Morrison, Flint; Bacuna, Ralls; Whyte (Hoillett 64), Murphy (Mendez-Laing 81), Tomlin (Paterson 64); Glatzel. Subs (not used): Day, Vaulkes, Nelson.

BOOKED: Bacuna.

GOAL: Murphy (42).

FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; S. Sessegnon, Bryan, Mawson, Ream; Reed, Arter, Cairney (Le Marchand 89); Knockaert (Johansen 71), Cavaleiro (Kamara 81), Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rodak, Christie, McDonald, Onomah.

BOOKED: Arter, Bettinelli, Mawson, Cairney.

SENT OFF: Arter (68).

GOAL: Mitrovic (45).

REFEREE: Tim Robinson (West Sussex).

ATTENDANCE: 22,631.

Obafemi sends Saints through

Michael Obafemi grabbed the only goal of the game as Southampton knocked Fulham out of the League Cup in a low-key encounter at Craven Cottage this evening.

Scott Parker shuffled his starting line-up, making nine changes from the side that were beaten by Nottingham Forest on Saturday, with an eye on Friday’s crucial trip to Cardiff City in the Championship. The Fulham boss handed a debut to former Tottenham midfielder Josh Onomah and a first start to forward Bobby Decordova-Reid, whilst also offering first-team opportunities to Matt O’Riley and Luca de la Torre.

The Whites more than matched their Premier League opponents during a tight first-half, even though Ralf Hassenhuttl stayed true to his word and named a strong side. The hosts made the brighter start with Decordova-Reid rattling the crossbar from an early free-kick and former QPR goalkeeper Alex McCarthy producing a smart reaction save to tip over Cyrus Christie’s header from the rebound.

American midfielder de la Torre, who faded after a lively start, drifted infield effectively in the early stages. He showed great pace to accelerate away from the Southampton defence but skewed a shot wide from a promising position and then similarly lacked the composure to finish a fine move featuring Kamara and Decordova-Reid, who also shot wide from the edge of the box. O’Riley, who sent the game’s first effort high into the Putney End, showed the poise and range of passing that has seen him highlighted as the pick of the academy prospects for the past couple of seasons, but Fulham lacked the punch up front to capitalise on his vision.

Southampton gradually grew into the contest over a slow start and their top flight quality began to show. Marek Rodak had an outstanding game in the Fulham goal, first being called into action as he lunged low at his near post to prevent a Cedric Soares’ cross from reaching two Saints’ attackers. Nathan Redmond looked the most likely to trouble a makeshift Fulham defence, that included stand-in skipper Kevin McDonald at centre back, but the Scottish international denied both him and Moussa Djenpo in quick succession with brave blocks. The bright Redmond threatened again on the stroke of half-time, but drove a speculative shot over the bar.

Southampton stepped things up after the break and put the Fulham goal under some concerted pressure. James Ward-Prowse, impressive at the heart of the Saints midfield, curled a free-kick narrowly over and then, after being presented with a glorious opportunity by a loose Maxime Le Marchand pass, Oriel Romeu was repelled by the onrushing Rodak. Redmond than glanced a header wide from an inviting Ward-Prowse set-play and you sensed an opening was coming.

The Southampton goal duly arrived just before the half mark when Redmond raced down the Fulham left, beating the covering McDonald for pace and squaring perfectly for the teenage Obafemi to slot home his second senior goal from close range. The arrival of Danny Ings and Shane Long as second half substitutes strengthened the visitors’ firepower and only a string of fine saves from Rodak kept Parker’s men in the contest.

First, the Slovenian international made himself big at his near post to prevent Ings from making an almost immediate impact from an acute angle and – after blocking another Ings effort – he plucked a Maya Yoshida header out of the air. McDonald made a couple of saving tackles as Fulham were nearly punished for playing out from the back. It was proving hard for this makeshift Fulham side to get themselves high up the pitch – and the introduction of three debutantes from the sidelines, in the shape of Tyrese Francois, Ben Davis and Martell Taylor-Crossdale, initially broke up the game’s rhythm.

Fulham’s late onslaught never really materialised. The closest the hosts’ came to an equaliser was when Decordova-Reid lashed an effort narrowly wide from the inside left position, although referee Robert Jones missed the clear deflection that had taken it wide of the post. Both Taylor-Crossdale and Francois made their presence felt in the final stages, but the Whites looked for an extra pass rather than the shot as time ticked away and Southampton fully deserved their place in the third round.

FULHAM (4-3-3): Rodak; Christie, Bryan, McDonald, Le Marchand; Onomah, Johansen (Francois 80), O’Riley; de la Torre (Davis 90), Kamara (Taylor-Crossdale 90), Decordova-Reid. Subs (not used): Norman, Opoku, Odoi, S. Sessegnon.

BOOKED: Johansen, Le Marchand.

SOUTHAMPTON (4-2-2-2): McCarthy; Soares, Hojberg, Bednarek (Yoshida 60), Danso; Romeu, Ward-Prowse; Boufal, Djenpo; Redmond (Long 76), Obafemi (Ings 68). Subs (not used): Gunn, Stephens, Valery, Armstrong.

BOOKED: Danso, Ward-Prowse.

REFEREE: Robert Jones (Merseyside).

ATTENDANCE: 8,467.