By Morgan Phillips
Though Fulham’s Saturday match against Preston kicked off in bright sunshine a chill soon descended on Craven Cottage. But it failed to dishearten the home supporters.
Preston, only a point behind in the table, had been expected to prove strong opposition. Apart from an early piece of comic goalkeeping the home team so dominated the first half that it was surprising that they only led 1-0 at halftime.
Neeskens Kebano took the ball to the goal line and passed back to the irrepressible Sone Aluko, who scored. On the hour mark Aluko initiated the second goal by dispossessing an opponent and passing to Ryan Fredericks. The latter’s through ball was elegantly converted by Chris Martin, who was making an unexpected return to the first team.
Equally unexpected was Preston’s reply. Tom Barkhuizen scored with an ease that must have frustrated the visiting supporters. They had had little to cheer up to that point and any hopes of an equaliser were dispelled just minutes later by, almost inevitably, Neeskens Kebano. His late goals and acrobatic celebrations have made him a Cottage favourite.
Many Preston fans wore plastic bowlers, each commemorating someone connected with the North End club. I saw some of these hats at the Hammersmith End, presumably donated as a sign of friendship. It is an idea that the London club could pursue.
Fulham’s victory was so confident that even the most cautious supporter dared to speak of the playoffs.
Leeds United of course can always be fearsome opponents and Fulham looked far from comfortable in the opening minutes of Tuesday night’s fixture at the Cottage. David Button and Tim Ream completely misread a speculative free kick, and Leeds were a goal up without even trying. Both men were to make up for the error by their performances later in the game.
After 20 minutes Fulham, inspired by Tom Cairney, reasserted themselves and outplayed the visitors. Neeskens Kebano fired a magnificent shot off the underside of the bar but the officials ignored claims that it had crossed the line. Such is the impact of technology that by half-time spectators knew that Neeskens (and Fulham) had been cheated of an equaliser.
In the second half the home side redoubled their assault on the Leeds goal.
Wayward finishing and the visitors’ time-wasting seemed to have cost Fulham three points. The officials were not helpful either, missing a Leeds handball. Gohi Cyriac, a late Fulham substitute, saw his powerful header saved by Rob Green, and the added time had almost expired when Tom Cairney thumped the ball into the net from the edge of the penalty area.
It was a well deserved conclusion to a thrilling match. Ecstasy reigned on three sides of the ground whilst the Leeds fans were – at last – silenced.
It transpired that Sheffield Wednesday had also been held to a draw so the five-point gap remained. The Fulham-Leeds match left us gasping, and the excitement looks set to continue.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not necessarily those of Hammersmith & Fulham Council.
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