By Morgan Phillips
Slavisa Jokanovic’s sucker-punch gambit, which left Fulham so short against Southampton, seems to have finally paid-off up at Middlesbrough.
Crowding the midfield and looking for a late breakaway winner won the day at The Riverside - though Jokanovic can hardly have planned for the opposition to concede a penalty in the dying seconds, to leave the Whites as 0-1 victors.
Listening to the Middlesbrough match via Fulham’s online commentary was a nerve-racking experience - even without the breaks in transmission. For it was clear that the home side dominated the first half.
A slip by Oliver Norwood almost gave them an early goal (he more than atoned for this later in the day). Then Adama Traore dispossessed Aboubakar Kamara, and ran almost the length of the field through an inert Fulham defence.
Luckily this came to nothing, as did a simple chance for Rudy Gestede. The half-time whistle must have come as some relief.
For a match so keenly contested, referee Geoff Eltringham may perhaps have been too lenient. In the 57th minute he ignored Tomas Kalas grappling with Gestede in the area and throwing him to the ground.
Fulham had a different sort of escape when Britt Assombalonga hit the bar, but the height of the visitors’ good fortune came when contact between Norwood and Grant Leadbetter resulted in that last-minute penalty.
Norwood despatched the ball with such ease, that one marvelled again at the ineptitude of so many Fulham spot-kicks of the recent past.
The home fans were understandably aggrieved, but their skilful players had not managed a single shot on target.
The next opponents, Burton Albion, had beaten Fulham in September. But when they came to Craven Cottage on Saturday they suffered a catastrophic defeat, the home side scoring three times in each half.
Rui Fonte, who had notched only one goal this season, was presented with a sitter by Lucas Piazon. In his celebrations Rui seemed to be telling the supporters, ‘You see, I really can find the net.’
Birthday boy Piazon, whose earlier efforts proved wayward, added a fine second, then Ryan Fredericks’s cross allowed Fonte a further goal.
Burton rallied after the interval only to concede a brace by Ryan Sessegnon. Substitute Aboubakar Kamara completed the rout with the neatest of chips.
Those youngsters taking advantage of the ‘Kids for a Quid’ concession got a real bargain (each goal costing less than 17p). But all the home fans enjoyed the match, which celebrated the ‘Kick It Out’ campaign and began with a richly deserved tribute to the late Cyrille Regis.
Craven Cottage will host the international friendly between Australia and Colombia on Tuesday 27 March. Judged by Saturday’s performance, Fulham should be among the Championship leaders by then.
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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