Fulham progressed to the Championship play-off final despite falling to a 2-1 defeat to Cardiff City at Craven Cottage on Thursday evening.
It initially looked like a memorable comeback could have been on the cards early on as Curtis Nelson nodded in for the visitors, only for the in-form Neeskens Kebano to strike less than half a minute later to equalise on the night. Substitute Lee Tomlin then netted with his first touch after his introduction to ensure the tie remained alive in the final 40 minutes. The Bluebirds were not quite able to score what would have been a priceless equaliser, meaning Fulham are now just 90 minutes from an instant return to the Premier League.
Two early goals at Craven Cottage
Behind by two from the first-leg, it was key that the Bluebirds enjoyed a fast start at Craven Cottage and that is exactly what happened. From a corner, Marek Rodak failed to come for the ball and with Nelson out-strengthening his defenders, it was an easy header into the back of the net from close range.
The visitors were somewhat naive though as just 24 seconds later, Fulham equalised. Bobby Decordova-Reid was granted far too much space down the right and played the perfect ball to Kebano. He only required one touch as he coolly slotted home for his fifth goal in just four matches.
Scott Parker’s men had more chances to extend their aggregate advantage, with Josh Onomah and Ryan Christie having efforts blocked, before Anthony Knockaert at first had a low, curling shot pawed away by Alex Smithies and then also fired just over.
Tomlin has instant impact
Just as they did in the first-half, Cardiff enjoyed a lightning start to the second period to halt Fulham’s momentum. With Tomlin and Nathanial Mendez-Laing introduced at the break, the two played a key part as the Bluebirds hauled themselves back into the tie. A long throw was poorly dealt with by Fulham, with Mendez-Laing producing a powerful header. Rodak reacted excellently but the ball bounced off of Michael Hector and straight into the path of Tomlin who scored.
Danny Ward then really should have put the Bluebirds level on aggregate but just failed to get on the end of Leandro Bacuna’s dangerous cross.
With the visitors pressing desperately for an equaliser, they were always going to be vulnerable defensively and they got two warnings from another substitute Aboubakar Kamara. The Frenchman hit two shots that were spectacularly stopped by Cardiff keeper Smithies, the latter somehow getting tipped onto the post.
Rodak then repeated those excellent reactions from his opposite number as he got out well to deny Mendez-Laing, Hector and Will Vaulks in quick succession. The final chance of the match fell to Robert Glatzel but he could only blaze it over, allowing Fulham to celebrate their progression to the play-off final.
This was certainly a test for Fulham as they had to remain stubborn to halt a Cardiff side that pushed throughout the whole game. They passed that challenge with flying colours though. It wasn’t quite an inspiring performance from the hosts but they will not care one jot after they book their tickets to what looks like an exhilarating playoff final against West London rivals Brentford.
Fulham: Rodak (7); Bryan (7) (Le Marchand (N/A), 90′), Ream (6), Hector (6), Christie (6); Cairney (7), Reed (6); Kebano (7) (Kamara (6), 45′), Onomah (7), Knockaert (6) (Odoi (N/A), 76′); Reid (6).
Cardiff City: Smithies (7); Bennett (6), Nelson (7), Morrison (6), Bacuna (6); Pack (5) (Tomlin (7), 45′ (Whyte (N/A), 84′)), Vaulks (7); Murphy (6) (Paterson (N/A), 81′), Ralls (6), Hoillett (5) (Mendez-Laing (6), 45′); Ward (6) (Glatzel (6), 72′).
Goals: Nelson (8′), Kebano (9′), Tomlin (47′)
Referee: Paul Tierney
Yellow Cards: Morrison (35′), Bacuna (45+3′), Dercodova-Reid (50′), Rodak (59′), Christie (70′), Onomah (90+4′)
Red Cards: N/A
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