By Morgan Phillips
Third in the Championship with seven games left, Slavisa Jokanovic’s team showed neither fatigue nor overconfidence when Leeds United visited the Cottage on Tuesday the 3rd April. As the Yorkshire club and its supporters were clearly eager to see Fulham’s unbeaten run end that evening it made for an exhilarating display of good football by both sides.
After some near misses Fulham’s first half goal was somewhat comic, Aleksandar Mitrovic’s pass being deflected into the net off Kevin McDonald’s posterior. In the 63rd minute Caleb Ekuban looked certain to equalise only for Marcus Bettinelli to block his shot. Stefan Johansen and Tom Cairney hurried the ball upfield and Mitrovic obliged with another classy goal.
At this point, according to Fulham’s official website, the players’ ‘bifurcated’. This procedure, which sounds painful, only means that both Bettinelli and Mitrovic were respectively mobbed by their ecstatic team-mates.
Ekuban on the other hand was distraught but Leeds responded with increased vigour, as evidenced by the yellow cards awarded to McDonald and Stefan Johansen for crudely disrupting the visitors’ attack. Bettinelli also received his usual caution for time-wasting. Fulham deserved their victory but the game could easily have been drawn.
Wolves’ Friday night defeat of Cardiff City gave the Whites a chance to narrow the gap when they visited Sheffield Wednesday the following afternoon. As usual there were plenty of attempts on goal though none really threatened to score apart from a glorious header by Aleksandar Mitrovic, which Joe Wildsmith was somehow able to parry. In the 78th minute, when a draw seemed ever likelier, Ryan Sessegnon sent over a low centre for Mitrovic to ram into the net. No keeper could have saved his strike.
Coming on as substitute, Neeskens Kebano had two chances to remind Jokanovic of his abilities but both went begging. So, fortunately, did Wednesday’s opening in the final seconds. Fulham were now tantalisingly close to second placed Cardiff and five points ahead of Aston Villa, who had lost 3-1 at Norwich.
Most people know that St Andrew’s Church Fulham Fields nurtured the sports club that became Fulham FC. On Tuesday the 10th April the present day Vicar the Revd Lesley Bilinda was invited to the Cottage to see her first ever football match. By chance Fulham had labelled the evening’s entertainment READemption, the chance to atone for losing to Reading in last season’s play-offs. It was also a great opportunity to dislodge Cardiff from second place.
The tension was transparent. No-one, not even the Cardiff manager, could accuse Reading of making things easy. Luckily they lacked the home side’s cohesion, and Bettinelli enjoyed a quiet evening. Fulham, though in control, were not at their best. Their only goal came in the 25th minute when an incisive pass from Matt Targett allowed Johansen to score. Despite the home side’s superiority the three points were not safe until the very end. The victory was all the sweeter because Cardiff had lost and Fulham had moved above them.
The Vicar of St Andrew’s must remain neutral, as it is rumoured that a few members of her congregation support other clubs, but she greatly enjoyed her visit. It was ‘an exciting debut for me and a great privilege to be there at such a crucial match in the season. It’s looking like the “We’re going up” chants might well come to fruition.’ And so say all of us.
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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