As the Championship fixtures hit us head-on like the wind off the exposed banks of the Thames, Fulham welcomed Swansea for a midweek encounter under the Cottage lights.
With Tuesday night throwing up a mixed bag of results – mostly positive – a win for the home side would send them back above Forest and pull them away from the chasing pack as Brentford, Preston and Bristol City all fell to defeats.
Scott Parker knew his team needed the win from a morale-boosting perspective as well as a points one, with the Whites only collecting 2 points from a possible 9 since the win over Blackburn. The club announced that Josh Onomah had undergone knee surgery this week, so Parker had another injury to add to the ever-growing list but only made one change to his starting XI, Cavaleiro coming in for StefJo who found himself back on the bench.
The game started off at a decent pace with the Whites on the front foot from the get-go, a few early chances came and went as the home side settled into their usual brand of possession football, with a slight increase in impetus from what we’d seen in previous games. However, despite the early dominance, it was the away side who carved out the best opening in the 20th minute as Andrew Ayew beat Ream to a header and ran onto the ball, rounding Rodak but Odoi came to the rescue with a last-second challenge as the Swansea forward was about to poke the ball goalwards.
After that scare, Fulham continued to push forward with Mitro having a golden opportunity in the 27th minute, as he was put clean through but he took the shot on early, putting it wide of the right-hand post when another touch would’ve given him a much simpler chance to get the first goal of the night.
A theme of the first half was the continued ability to waste opportunities from corners. Whilst the number of goals scored from corners generally is very low, the way in which the chances go begging is getting increasingly frustrating. Whether it’s Knockaert or Cav (or whoever) taking them, they either seem to not beat the first man or beat all the men and fly out of play. Not sure if these are a particular focal point of training but the reality is that I’ve seen more impressive corners on a circle. Swansea only had one in the first half, yet they came closest to scoring and had the ball been a foot to the left from the subsequent header, Rodak would’ve had no chance. But thankfully it didn’t and the teams went in at half time still level.
After what was a more positive showing from the Whites than we’d seen in the last few weeks, the second period began with a good chance as Odoi found space down the right and his attempted cross was knocked out for a corner – see above for how that went.
However, despite the positive display in the first half, the game settled into what we’ve become overly accustomed to with Parker’s side – plenty of possession with not much else; it was if he’d told them to calm it down a bit rather than geeing them up for another strong push. No one played badly, but then no one shone out (although Rodak’s save when one-on-one with Jordan Garrick was vital) – although it was a much-improved performance from Cairney on the night, trying to pull the strings (and seemingly having his captain hat on) but with little success.
It took until the 78th minute for the first change to be made, with Kebano coming on for Cav. Whilst Fulham weren’t chasing the game, the team looked in need of a freshen up a little while before then. A few minutes later, Swansea were denied a penalty when Odoi went in on Ayew when it looked as if the Ghanaian had gotten away from the right back. From the Hammy End, it was hard to see, but the replays suggested Ayew was probably justified in his less-than-impressed reaction to the referee’s decision to play on.
A minute later, AK24 was replaced by AK47 to bring a bit more bull-in-a-china-shop style down the right; little did we know that he’d have such an impact! On 87mins his cross into the box, whilst looking somewhat overhit, resulted in Neeskens (or Johansen as the Swansea Twitter account seemed to think it was(!)) tripping over the legs of the Swansea defender, who seemed to know very little about it. The referee, God bless him, decided that it was a foul and pointed to the spot much to the chagrin of Ayew who ran the length of the pitch to, I assume, swear at him profusely in French. With the ideal opportunity to seal the win in dramatic style, Mitro stepped up and put the ball to the keeper’s right – unfortunately at a great height for Woodman to keep it out, with the ball rebounding to Kebano who’s follow up was impressively kept out.
What looked like a wasted opportunity to take the three points, was in fact, just a teaser for what was to come. With Swansea giving it one last push in the 93rd minute, Joe Bryan pulled off a brilliantly-timed challenge on Gallagher with Arter picking up the loose ball and feeding it out to Odoi who passed it short to TC. A few seconds later, the ball was with AK on the right and with no one around him, he was able to put in a pin-point cross that found the head of Mitro as his salmon-esque leap saw him out-jump the defender and the ball clipped the underside of the bar and nestled in the back of the net, sending the majority of the Cottage crowd into raptures, whilst leaving the traveling fans feeling more than a little aggrieved at what they’d just witnessed.
The final whistle went soon after kick-off, and despite it being a mixed evening performance-wise, you can’t beat a last-minute winner! Next up is another must-win (as they all seem to be) against playoff pushers Preston, so hopefully, the team can use this result to propel them onto another 3 points. Maybe just do it a bit earlier, for all our sakes.