By Morgan Phillips
With one Championship match remaining Fulham must aim for a win at Birmingham on Sunday (6 May) and hope that Cardiff draw or lose.
It is a stressful situation, which explains the Whites’ substandard performance in the penultimate League match on a wet Friday evening. During the first half hour, against already relegated Sunderland, passes went astray and the opposition were given too much freedom. After Joel Asoro had bamboozled Matt Targett and scored for the visitors with pinpoint accuracy, Fulham jerked into life, giving Sunderland keeper Jason Steele several chances to impress.
Five minutes before the interval the unfortunate Targett went off injured, to be replaced by a favourite of the fans, Aboubakar Kamara. Fulham’s equaliser came almost immediately. Kamara sent Ryan Fredericks away on the right and Lucas Piazon converted the full back’s cross. Sunderland claimed that the game should have been stopped for a foul by Tim Ream, but referee Peter Bankes disagreed. For once the Fulham fans supported Mr Bankes’s decision.
Former Fulham captain Danny Murphy, invited on the pitch at half-time, won warm applause for his recollections. It is 10 years since Roy Hodgson took over as the Whites’ manager and kept the club in the Premier League. Danny played a big part in the escape from relegation, scoring a crucial goal at Portsmouth. As he commented on Friday, it was the start of a successful period for Fulham, and a decade later a similar optimism prevails.
The Whites showed more cohesion after the interval. Kamara was a constant threat and eventually drew the free kick from which Aleksandar Mitrovic headed past Steele. Truly the Serb striker should have been given offside. Sunderland, like other relegation teams before them, have found that when your luck is out it really is out. The game ended scruffily with Peter Bankes compelled to reprimand Marcus Bettinelli, Mitrovic and Stefan Johansen for various forms of time-wasting.
Joy over the victory proved short-lived.
Cardiff won at Hull a few hours later. So Fulham must get three points at Birmingham on Sunday, and hope that the Welsh team lose or draw. At one point on Friday the crowd sang: “We’ve got two stadiums,” referring to owner Shahid Khan’s bid for Wembley. It looks increasingly as if Fulham will be required to participate in the playoff final at the stadium if they want to return to the Premier League.
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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