By Morgan Phillips
With the Championship season drawing to a close Fulham gave a 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 that evening the Fulham fans agreed with Mr Bankes.
Former Fulham captain Danny Murphy, invited on the pitch at half-time, won warm applause for his recollections. It is ten 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 luck is out it really is out. The game ended scruffily with Mrt 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 had to get three points at Birmingham on Sunday, and hope that the Welsh team lost or drew. Victory for Birmingham would consign the Whites to the playoffs, and that, sadly, was the outcome of the match with the underperforming visitors losing 3-1. Targett again went off injured and this time there was no dramatic fight-back. Frustratingly Cardiff could only draw, but automatic promotion was theirs.
In future months (and years) we will look back with admiration on Fulham’s amazing run of matches without defeat. For now the team must concentrate on overcoming sixth-placed Derby County and progressing to Wembley.
A few weeks ago I was amazed to hear Fulham fans berating Derby for a pitch invasion that occurred in May 1983, before many of those spectators were born. Whatever happens at Pride Park on Friday and at the Cottage the following Monday that hatchet should have been buried a long time ago.
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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