Fulham 1-0 Preston North End From Craven Cottage
This was a chance for both Fulham and Preston North End to really make a statement heading into the business end of the season. Just one point separated the two sides before this mouthwatering encounter at Craven Cottage in the race to weasel their way into the play-off positions.
It was Fulham who took advantage of their passionate home support – running out deserved 3-1 winners – thanks in no small part to the bumper crowd, with tickets priced at just £1 for children. A first half strike from Sone Aluko gave the home side the advantage at the break, before Chris Martin’s cool finish on the hour mark gave the Cottagers some breathing space. Neeskens Kebano added a late third after Tom Barkhuizen had given the visitors a lifeline.
It was a good day at the office for Slavisa Jokanovic’s men. The Fulham boss this week signed a contract extension to keep him at the helm until 2019 and his players laid on a performance that will have convinced their coach that he made the right decision to sign on.
KEBANO PROVES HIS WORTH
The undoubted star of the show this afternoon was 24 year-old Neeskens Kebano. The Congolese international has been in and out of the Fulham team since arriving from Genk in August.
Today, however, Kebano showed he has the quality to be a key member of this Fulham side. He was instrumental in the opening goal, firing in a low reverse cross which fell to Sone Aluko who made no mistake in burying his sixth goal of the season.
Kebano terrorised the Preston defence all afternoon, and he got on the scoresheet in the end, latching on to Aluko’s pass before squeezing a low finish through the legs of Preston keeper Chris Maxwell.
Jokanovic will be desperate for Kebano to replicate this kind of form on a more consistence basis if his side are to break into that top six. Quality in attacking areas so often proves the key for teams looking to make a late charge towards the play-offs, and if Kebano can continue in today’s vein, he could prove to be a key figure for the Cottagers over the next few months.
Preston boss Simon Grayson will be thoroughly disappointed in his side’s showing this afternoon. With so much riding on this game, not least the chance to leapfrog Fulham into seventh place, Preston’s abject display was a sign that perhaps it is too soon for the Lilywhites to think about the prospect of Premier League football.
Fulham showed more fight than their opponents, with Preston limited to occasional glimpses of David Button on the counter attack. Diminutive winger Daryl Horgan proved their brightest spark, his rasping shot was beaten away brilliantly by Button in the second half. Indeed, Preston’s goal was a well worked move, Tom Barkhuizen latching on to Ben Pearson’s inch perfect through ball before steering it past Button.
For Preston, sixth placed Sheffield Wednesday are now nine points ahead of them and it looks as though that may be an unassailable lead for Grayson’s men to claw back. That said, with this only being Preston’s second season back in the second tier, the Lilywhites look a strong outfit and although promotion may be beyond them this season, the signs are bright for the future.
FULHAM STILL IN THE HUNT
Slavisa Jokanovic already has experience of guiding a Championship to the promised land of the Premier League, having led Watford to a second placed finish two years ago. Once again, he has assembled a team that has no discernible weaknesses, and instilled a level of work-rate that is so crucial in this division.
It’s a far cry from when Jokanovic took over. Then, Fulham were languishing at the bottom end of the Championship. According to club chairman Shahid Khan’s programme notes, it took a lot of persuasion to convince Jokanovic to take the reins at Fulham, and now they are reaping the rewards from his arrival. With a game in hand over Sheffield Wednesday, there is cause for optimism that Fulham can break into that top six and make a return to the Premier League where they belong.