Nick Ames was at the Cottage tonight to witness Fulham squeak into the final. Here’s his report. Enjoy that one … and thanks for reading this one. Nighty night!
Neil Harris looks to the future. “Since the moment I’ve come in the building, the players performances, the way they’ve improved … I can’t be any prouder of the players, they’ve been class for me. Class. We’ve come up against a very talented Fulham side, and there are two very good sides in the final. What Fulham have done is score at the key moments. The start of the second half. The last kick of the game. And tonight just after we scored. So they’ve always found a way to wrestle that momentum. We just couldn’t find that moment, but the players have done me proud. They’ve done the fans proud too. We can compete with the top sides. We feel the capital city of Wales should have a team in the Premier League, but we have to earn the right to get there. I’m gutted, but we have to be even better next year.”
Scott Parker seems more relieved than happy. “The way the game panned out was not how I expected it. But a wounded animal who had nothing to lose put us under pressure. They put the ball in the box from all over the pitch, and we didn’t deal with that well enough. We didn’t put our stamp on the game. We were nervous. But we won the game over two legs, and did a good job away from home, so we move on and it’s up for grabs. Come the end of the game we’ve not totally folded. We are disappointed in our performance tonight, but Tuesday will be a different game and we need to stay bright and positive.”
Fulham defender Michael Hector adds: “We deserve to be there. We can’t wait. They’re a physical side. When you don’t take your chances, it’s going to be a tough night. They had nothing to lose. We got the job done, and that’s all that matters. At Wembley anything can happen, and we’re positive. It’s a shame Wembley won’t be full, but we’ll have to create our own atmosphere.”
Fulham midfielder Tom Cairney speaks. “We had the worst start you can think of. These 2-0 leads are a bit weird in the head, it feels comfortable but it’s not at the same time. We let ourselves down by not playing our usual game and inviting pressure. But we showed a different side to us in the second half, when our backs were against the wall. We got over the line. We’re going to need to dig in against a very good Brentford side. I think we deserve to be there, and Brentford do as well. It’ll be a good final.”
Fulham deserve huge credit for eventually stemming the Cardiff tide in that second half. An equaliser that would have taken the match to extra time looked inevitable for a while, such was the verve the Bluebirds played with after the restart. But the hosts held on. Deservedly so: they were the better team over the two legs. Next Tuesday’s Wembley showdown for a place in the Premier League promises to be a belter. Cardiff, when the pain subsides, should take heart from an excellent second-leg performance, and the knowledge that they’re going in the right direction under Neil Harris. There’s always next year.
FULL TIME: Fulham 1-2 Cardiff City (agg: 3-2)
That was Cardiff’s last chance! They were magnificent in that second half, but it wasn’t enough. Fulham dug in, and they’ll face their west London neighbours in Tuesday’s play-off final!
90 min +5: From the resulting free kick, hit long, Paterson heads down for Glatzel, who blazes over from 12 yards.
90 min +4: Onomah, rolling on the floor, holds onto the ball and refuses to let go. He’s rightly booked, though Bennett, who was trying to wrestle it off him, should walk for snidely pressing his boot on the prone Fulham player’s leg. That’s poor form.
90 min +3: A loose Ralls pass sails into the stand, Morrison unable to keep it in play. The big man looks pained and waves his arms about in despair.
90 min +2: The tension is palpable. Scott Parker paces up and down the touchline, chewing with Allardycian ferocity.
90 min +1: The first of five extra minutes passes by. Can Cardiff force extra time? They’ve scored six goals after the 90-minute mark this season, a total only bettered by Sheffield Wednesday’s eight.
90 min: Le Marchand comes on with a note for Cairney, who has a good old read before discarding it, the litterbug. Bryan makes way.
89 min: Fulham have established a semblance of control, just when they need it. Cardiff can’t keep hold of the ball in the opposition half.
87 min: Christie tries to float a Glenn Hoddle style chip over Smithies from a tight angle on the right. He doesn’t quite manage it.
86 min: Ralls swings the free kick into the box. Rodak punches confidently clear. Kamara breaks up the other end, but can’t quite burst clear. Still, the ball’s now up the other end, as the clock ticks on.
85 min: Hector and Paterson go up for a high ball, just to the left of the Fulham box. It looks like a fair 50-50 challenge, but the referee deems it a foul by Hector, as Paterson comes off worse. Hector is truly livid, not least because there’s real danger here.
83 min: Tomlin’s race is run. He sticks out a leg, hoping to gather a Bennett pass down the left wing. His hamstring immediately pings, and he’ll be replaced by Whyte. Poor Tomlin leaves the field close to tears. He’s made a huge difference since coming on.
82 min: Tomlin tries to release Glatzel down the middle with a gentle dink, but Ream reads the situation well and steps in to batter clear.
80 min: Christie twinkletoes his way in from the right, teasing Bennett before attempting a curler towards the top left. Bennett deflects out for a corner. Glatzel slaps the corner clear with a towering header.
78 min: Mendez-Laing makes good down the inside-left channel and sends a diagonal swerver wide right of the Fulham goal. I have no idea how the scoreline is still just 1-2. It could quite easily have been anything.
76 min: Fulham make a defensive change, sending on Odoi for Knockaert.
75 min: Kamara whips a glorious cross in from the left. Decordova-Reid stoops to head home from six yards, but Nelson, at full stretch, eyebrows a clearance away from the striker! That is quite astonishing. The resulting corner leads to nothing.
74 min: But one decent Fulham attack will end this. Knockaert and Christie combine neatly down the right. Christie tries to slam across for Kamara, but Nelson intercepts with his chest. Fulham want a penalty, but they’re not getting one.
73 min: No idea how that free kick didn’t result in a goal. On the touchline, Neil Harris holds his head in his hands. Nothing comes of the resulting corner. Fulham are clinging on.
72 min: Astonishing scenes from the Cardiff free kick out on the left! Mendez-Laing and Nelson can’t slam home amid a pinball melee. Rodak blocks well. Then tips over marvellously as Vaulks tries to lash home from an angle on the right.
71 min: The game restarts, but not before Cardiff replace Ward with Glatzel.
70 min: And that, my old MBM pals, is time for isotonic refreshment.
69 min: Murphy robs Christie down the left and is upended from behind by the embarrassed Fulham defender for his trouble. Christie goes into the book. It’s not certain that we’ll be ending this match with a full set of players.
68 min: Fulham have done very little in attack since the restart, but suddenly Kamara bursts into action. First he drops a shoulder to move in from the left and belts towards the bottom left. Smithies tips around the post. Then, after the corner, Kamara has another whack, curling confidently towards the same corner. It’s heading in, but Smithies fingertips onto the base of the post and away. What a pair of stunning saves to keep Cardiff in this semi-final!
66 min: BREAKING NEWS: Fulham successfully defend a long throw. Reed heads Vaulks’ fling clear with great ease.
65 min: Tomlin threatens to break clear down the left but the flag goes up for offside. Fulham are not playing with their usual confidence right now. Meanwhile here’s Jake Lynch: “Long throws into the mixer; biff-bang and it flies in. Wow, Cardiff are gonna be a real joy if they get to the Premier League aren’t they?” Well it’ll certainly be fun watching the likes of Chelsea and Everton try to defend against them.
63 min: After an elongated process of faffing, Fulham take the worst free kick in the entire history of association football. Onomah shapes to shoot, but then stutters incredibly obviously before stopping stock still. It’s not much of a dummy. After a Pinteresque beat, Cairney slips before making contact and floats a looper miles wide left. Oh dear. Fortunately there’s nobody here to see that.
61 min: Cairney launches a rare Fulham attack, drifting in from the left and driving towards the box. Ralls is forced to take a booking, chopping him down before he reaches shooting range. A free kick just to the left of centre, just outside the D.
60 min: Tomlin tries to spin and Zidane a shot towards the top right. But his effort is blocked and he’s handled in any case. Over 70 percent of the play during the last five minutes has taken place in Fulham’s final third.
58 min: Ralls wastes the free kick. But this is a very impressive start to the second half by Cardiff, who clearly don’t intend to die wondering. Rodak tries to take the sting out of the game by taking an age over a goal kick. He’s booked as a result. Fulham need to clear their heads quicksmart.
57 min: Cardiff are well on top here. Murphy makes his presence felt down the right by Bacuna. Bryan shoves him off the field and this is a free kick that’s basically a corner.
56 min: Mendez-Laing drives down the left in the style of Ted McMinn. He forces the ball across towards Tomlin, whose first-time shot from the edge of the box is blocked. Then another phase of attack as Murphy slips Bacuna into space down the right. Bacuna fizzes a ball across the face of the Fulham goal, and Ward is a toenail away from turning it in. So close!
54 min: Tomlin plays a cute pass round the corner for Mendez-Laing down the right. Christie slips under the resulting cross. The ball drops to Murphy on the penalty spot. He’s got time to take a touch, but doesn’t realise it, and sends a miserable first-time header softly into the arms of Rodak. What a chance that was! Fulham have been rattled by that super-early second-half Cardiff goal.
52 min: Now it’s Vaulks who goes into the referee’s notebook for hanging out a leg across Reed. Knockaert tries to catch Smithies out at the resulting free kick, but drags a long-range daisycutter wide right.
50 min: Decordova-Reid is booked for cheekily blocking Smithies’ drop kick. On the touchline, Scott Parker wears a worried frown. This is going to be some half of football.
48 min: How about that for a double substitution?! Those were the first touches by both Mendez-Laing and Tomlin. Fulham try to hit back within 24 seconds again, but Morrison manages to hook Christie’s right-wing cross clear.
GOAL! Fulham 1-2 Cardiff City (Tomlin 47); agg 3-2
Vaulks flings it long, into the mixer. Fulham once again fail to deal with it. Mendez-Laing, with his first touch, batters a header towards the top left. Rodak claws it out, but only to Tomlin, who sweeps in by the left-hand post!
46 min: Cardiff start the half on the front foot, swarming down the left and winning a throw deep in Fulham territory on the left. And from that …
Cardiff get the second half underway. They need two goals, and hope Tomlin and Mendez-Laing will help get them. They replace Pack and Hoilett. Meanwhile there’s a swap for Fulham too, as Kamara replaces the injured Kebano.
HALF TIME: Fulham 1-1 Cardiff City (agg: 3-1)
Two early goals in the space of 24 seconds, followed by a whole lot of end-to-end fun. Fulham are three-quarters of the way there, but this isn’t over yet. The second half promises some magical entertainment. Stay with us, why don’t you. No flipping!
45 min +4: From the resulting free kick, Christie whacks from distance. Smithies parries to the right, where Knockaert lurks. Knockaert drops a shoulder and whips towards the top left. The effort deflects off a Cardiff defender. Nothing comes of the corner that follows.
45 min +3: Kenabo threatens to break clear down the left. Bacuna takes a handful of his shirt and is booked.
45 min +2: Smithies is forced into action again, racing from his box to blooter clear, with Onomah chasing after a long ball.
45 min +1: The first of five added minutes nearly brings Fulham a goal, as Cairney loops down the left wing for Knockaert, who tries to round Smithies on the outside. The keeper makes himself big and snaffles.
45 min: An absurd shoving match between Decordova-Reid and Nelson explodes out of thin air. Both consider escalating matters by throwing hands; both quickly catch themselves on and cool down.
43 min: … then suddenly Murphy throws a couple of cute shapes out on the left and swings long for Hoilett, who can’t quite get the cross under control for a shot. That was lovely patient play by Cardiff, followed by some sublime skill out on the wing from Murphy.
40 min: Reed tries to sidefoot into the bottom-right corner from the best part of 40 yards. Full marks for ambition, if nothing else.
38 min: Pack sprays a glorious left-to-right pass towards Bacuna, who fires through an empty Fulham box. Cardiff come again, Ward having a speculative pop from 30 yards. Nope. Cardiff are giving this a good go, though. A much better performance than Monday night’s effort already.
36 min: Morrison is booked for swinging an arm in Decordova-Reid’s face. The resulting free kick, out on the left, is a chance for Fulham to load the box. Bryan swings it in, and Nelson batters clear.