Whites usher in New Year with maximum points from three wise matches



Floyd Ayite of Fulham FC. PICTURE: GETTY IMAGES

Morgan Phillips

By Morgan Phillips

Fulham gave their fans marvellous Christmas and New Year’s presents.

It all started with a 2-1 home win over Barnsley on 23 December, followed by a thrilling victory at Cardiff on Boxing Day. The Yorkshire club may have a bright future, but at the moment it hovers above the relegation zone. In the first half the visitors did show an instinct for attack despite their passing let them down. Their best chance came from a clumsy error by Marcus Bettinelli. It caused great excitement among Barnsley supporters – particularly the infamous fans dressed up as penguins – who had to be told to stay in their seats.

Tim Ream and Sheyi Ojo came close for Fulham. But it was a glorious drive from Floyd Ayite that gave the home side a 53rd minute lead. Barnsley unexpectedly equalised when an unchallenged Tom Bradshaw headed past Bettinelli. The referee ignored claims that Tim Ream had been fouled as he went to intercept. This incident brought the match to life and led to a glorious winner from Sheyi Ojo, who had already given warning of his rare talent. Was it a cross or a shot? The Barnsley keeper was not the only one taken completely by surprise.

Boxing Day found Fulham in no way overawed by Cardiff’s unbeaten home record. The visitors went ahead in the 12th minute when Ayite combined with Kevin McDonald to give Tim Ream a well deserved goal. The 1-0 halftime score gave little hint of what was to follow. Ayite increased the lead, but the stroll to victory was disrupted almost immediately by a 25-yard volley from Kenneth Zohore.

The final half hour was memorable and showed Fulham in top form, at last. After Bettinelli’s brilliance had foiled an equaliser, Rui Fonte replaced Ayite and immediately created a third goal for Fulham after it was immaculately converted by Ryan Sessegnon. Referee Tom Hooper could have sealed the win by awarding Fulham a penalty. But, not for the first time, he ignored a clear infringement. Never mind as it led to one of the great Fulham climaxes. As Cardiff pressed, Ryan Fredericks sent the ball forward to Stefan Johansen, who found the net after a scorching 59-yard run.

If only the Whites could show a bit of consistency. Unfortunately, the first half display at Hull was tired and lacking in conviction. Two goals down, Slavisa did not wait for the interval before making changes. He sent on Neeskens Kebano and Aboubakar Kamara for Ayite and Ojo.

Few could have expected the coach’s drastic decision to be so effective. Bizarrely, Hull’s Michael Hector tripped Kamara, who was just inside the penalty area but moving away from goal. Not the most disciplined of goalscorers, the young Frenchman seized his chance and placed the penalty beyond the goalkeeper’s reach. That was in the 48th minute, leaving ample time to rescue a point, though Bettinelli and his defence could never relax. With the final whistle approaching Kamara missed a simple opportunity – but then scored a goal of unexpected delicacy to the delight of the visiting supporters.

The first fixture of 2018 boasted a visit from Ipswich Town on the rainy Tuesday evening. It featured an amazing eight-minute period that will live in the memory for years. Ipswich – hoping to avenge a Portman Road defeat in August – took the lead just before halftime. Their disruptive tactics unsettled Fulham and allowed Joe Garner a free header. This was against the run of play, for the home side had created several good chances with no one to finish them.

In the 54th minute, Ipswich lost their composure – and then the match – when Jordan Spence committed a wild assault on Aboubakar Kamara. He resented Kamara’s challenge on his teammate but overreacted absurdly. The referee had no alternative but to issue a red card.

Jokanovic sent on Lucas Piazon, who was booked almost immediately for a ludicrous dive in the area. Fulham did not need such underhanded tactics. Two minutes later, Kamara put Neeskens Kebano through and although the Congolese fluffed his kick Ryan Sessegnon was well placed to score.

Almost immediately the home side went ahead when Kamara latched on to a rebound. Tom Cairney then got involved, bemusing the Ipswich defence to set up Sessegnon. Finally, in the 76th minute Kamara’s shot was deflected past the bewildered Ipswich keeper.

Struggling Premier Leaguers Southampton will surely be revising their tactics for Saturday’s FA Cup tie.

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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