And breath… Being a Fulham fan should come with a constant health warning, we always seem to make things hard for ourselves. Saying that, a lot of credit has to go to Cardiff for the way they battled and beat us on the night but I do feel we edged it over the two games. It was only half time in the tie and a two-goal lead is never comfortable and that’s exactly how it planned out.
The team was unchanged after our dominant win against Cardiff just 4 days ago which may have been forced upon Parker as Mitrovic still is deemed not fit enough to play. The Cardiff side saw three changes which Neil Harris describes as the perfect balance.
Ideally, we would have liked a quiet opening twenty minutes but it was far from it. We seemed to be defending Cardiff’s long throws and giving away needless free kicks and the breakthrough came through a set-piece. The corner in which Cardiff scored from was a result of a long throw which should have been given as a foul throw considering how far over the line Vaulkes foot was. We did not clear the danger but Rodak managed to tip it over the bar whilst being blinded by the sun. Before the resulting corner was taken, Rodak told the referee to keep an eye on Ward who seemed to be pushing and pulling. As the corner came in, Rodak was given nowhere to go after being held back and impeded by Ward with no free kick given. It was definitely the worst possible start we could have hoped for.
Luckily, for us, we hit back straight away, twenty-four seconds to be exact. A delightful low cross by Bobby Decordova-Reid was finished brilliantly by the in-form Neeskens Kebano to notch his fifth goal in four games. He managed to get in front of Bacuna, who I thought was woeful in both games and it was the perfect response which eased a lot of nerves. We then started to dominate the rest of the first half, Tom Cairney showing why he’s our most influential player going forward by putting Knockaert clean through on goal but the Frenchman fluffed his lines by trying to take the ball past an onrushing Smithies in the Cardiff goal. We also could have scored when the ball fell kindly to Onomah in the box, only for his shot to be blocked by Kebano from 6 yards out, it probably would have given us the lead if it missed him. We really should have put the tie to bed before half time but this is Fulham, we never make anything easy for ourselves.
The second half began and within three minutes, we found ourselves behind again due to being unable to deal with a Cardiff long throw. Hector managed to get his head on the ball but ended up straight into the path of Mendez-Laing who had a free header twelve yards out. Rodak managed to pull of a fantastic reaction save before Hector, again managed to fluff his lines and gave Tomlin an easy chance three yards out. Naturally, things started to get nervy and we found ourselves dropping deeper and deeper and having to cling on until the second water break.
With AK47 making his entrance at half time, he was our real driving force on the counter-attack with Tom Cairney also pulling the strings. Kamara came agonisingly close when his shot was pushed onto the post by Smithies and that could have eased all the nerves for us fans sitting at home. I must admit, it’s so much more difficult watching it at home than being in the stadium. Cardiff had a few more chances which Rodak pulled off a great double save with just over ten minutes left on the clock. We then introduced Odoi and Le Marchand to events to shore up or 3-2 aggregate scoreline, which we did… just! The final whistle went and there was no celebration from the players and rightly so, Parker got every player and staff member in a circle on the pitch and no doubt told them we must work harder on Tuesday.
The result means we have to play the bus stop in Hounslow in what could be, a night of elation or a night of horror. I am fully confident we will rise to the occasion and show them we can beat them when it matters. Last night saw us play our 48th league game and we have seen a lot of great things on the pitch and also some woeful things. It would be a credit to Scott Parker and his staff if we managed to get promotion back to the big time in his first full season in charge.
Let’s get back to where we belong… COYW!