Fulham 2-0 West Bromwich Albion: Cottagers secure first victory of the season
Photo by Getty Images/Clive Rose

Under the lights at Craven Cottage, Fulham earned their first league win of 2020/21 as goals from Bobby Decordova-Reid and Ola Aina sunk fellow newly promoted side West Bromwich Albion.

Both goals came in the first half, with Reid scoring from Aleksandar Mitrovic's cut-back header, and Aina struck home wondrously just four minutes later with a sensational left-footed shot from just outside the box.

The result elevates Fulham to 17th in the table, who in turn send their opponents down into the bottom three for now.

Story of the game

Fulham manager Scott Parker made two changes ahead of the crunch fixture, with Reid coming in for Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Joachim Andersen surprisingly included from the start following a swifter return from injury than expected — he took the place of Tim Ream.

The visitors, meanwhile, were unchanged from the side which earned their third draw of the campaign at Brighton & Hove Albion exactly a week prior, with Slaven Bilic showing faith in the same 11 players to secure their first win here.

Before the game, the minute of reflection shared by all at Craven Cottage was two-fold, this being Fulham's nearest home game to Remembrance Sunday, while the passing of England's World Cup-winning hero Nobby Stiles was also acknowledged.

Proceedings started at a good pace, with Conor Townsend hitting the bar from a cross-cum-shot inside five minutes, and faint penalty claims in the subsequent scramble in the box were waved away by referee Simon Hooper.

Fulham fashioned their first opportunity of the game when high pressing from Mitrovic won the ball on the edge of the penalty area. A driven cross was supplied into the area by Mario Lemina but Reid was unable to adjust his feet in time to really trouble Sam Johnstone in goal.

Their main threats early on came down the left flank, with Ademola Lookman and Antonee Robinson providing good attacking impetus. The former weaved into the West Brom box on the ten-minute mark and tried to cut the ball back for Mitrovic, but the defence cleared their lines well.

Fulham had a minor concern when skipper Tom Cairney went down clutching his ankle and required medical treatment, but the 29-year old was able to continue.

After a scrappy spell, Lookman breezed past visiting right-back Darnell Furlong again, this time cutting inside but failing to direct his shot goalwards. Fulham clearly believed that their best chances of scoring lay at the feet of this dynamic English winger, and they tried to find him time and time again.

Apart from the early scare, Fulham had the better of the first 25 minutes, and their efforts were rewarded when Reid opened the scoring after Mitrovic expertly headed the ball back across goal from a Robinson cross.

Their lead was doubled on the half-hour mark in sensational fashion. Full-back Aina was teed up by Mitrovic on the edge of the area and arrowed a spectacular shot into the far top corner which Johnstone was helpless to deny.

It was a truly ideal first 30 minutes for the hosts in a game they simply had to win, and against opponents that were no doubt feeling an equal measure of pressure too.

The visitors had an excellent chance to halve the deficit eight minutes before half-time when Mario Lemina was absent-mindedly dispossessed on the edge of his own area, but Karlan Grant scuffed his shot, to the relief of goalkeeper Alphonse Areola and, of course, Lemina.

Fantastic energy from Cairney on the stroke of half-time nearly made it three. The captain won the ball from Townsend on the half-way line, drove forward and laid it off for Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa 20 yards out, the midfielder's powerful effort forcing a strong save from Johnstone.

West Brom looked to attack their hosts straight away in the second half and managed to muster a rare foray into the Fulham box, but Conor Gallagher fouled Joachim Andersen as he stretched for Grady Diangana's pass towards the byline. The challenge saw the Chelsea loanee go into the book.

Next, Lookman conceded a free-kick in a promising position just to the right of the centre of goal and around 25 yards out, but it was slammed straight into the wall by Matheus Pereira.

Clearly discontent with his side's showing so far, Bilic shuffled his pack on 56 minutes with a double change with saw Callum Robinson and Romaine Sawyers replace Pereira and Jake Livermore to inject a good degree of pace and dynamism into his team.

But Fulham had their opponents where they wanted them, defending solidly to hold onto their advantage, and they could have had another just past the hour mark but Harrison Reed's half-volley sailed wide of the far post.

It took 65 minutes for Baggies striker Karlan Grant to get his first touch of the ball in the Fulham penalty area, but his header from Furlong's cross was tame, drawing a simple save from Areola. It was indicative of West Brom's lack of penetration and incision in the second half, despite their two-goal disadvantage.

West Brom upped their pressure in the final 20 minutes, with one attack conjuring half-chances for Grant and Robinson respectively, but Areola's gloves remained untested.

That was testament to the centre-back pairing of Andersen and Tosin Adarabioyo who had been impenetrable all game; they saved their goalkeeper from trouble again in the 79th minute, blocking Robinson's half-volley.

Fulham came agonisingly close to a third goal two minutes later when Cairney capitalised on an error from Johnstone and chipped towards goal. It looked set to arc into the net but Townsend darted back to clear off the line, and Ajayi was forced into similar action from Reid's follow-up shot.

The Cottagers continued to push, and Anguissa's lung-bursting 89th-minute drive down the centre of the pitch saw him attempt to set Mitrovic through on goal, but Branislav Ivanovic managed to intervene and thwart the danger.

It wasn't three goals, but it was three precious points for Fulham, their first in the league this season and a good reason for optimism heading towards a challenging run of fixtures.

Takeaways from the match

Strength down Fulham's flanks

This game proved that the key to Parker's intricate passing play at Fulham is that the majority of their attacking fortunes, and goals, will be dependent upon the efforts of their wide players — not just the passing of Cairney and the finishing of Mitrovic.

Winger Reid and full-back Aina got the goals, but many more instances of positive play went unrewarded, particularly down the left as Robinson and Lookman linked up extremely well; it looks to be a partnership which could be greatly fruitful going forward.

Poor showing from Baggies

It's known that the relationship between Bilic and the board at West Brom was severed significantly with the sale of defender Ahmed Hegazi before the international deadline a few weeks ago; this result will have done nothing to help the mood at the club.

Truth be told, the Baggies got what they deserved: they were second-best on the day and were dealt a damaging blow here by a side nonetheless expected to be down there with them fighting for safety in the latter stages of the campaign.

Standout player

Tom Cairney (Fulham)

The home captain operated exceptionally in the hole between West Brom's midfield and defence, and led by example with his relentless pressing and sharp passing. He acted as the base upon which the best of his side's attacking play was built; all that was missing from his performance was a goal, denied off the line by Townsend.

Credit too to Reid who replaced Loftus-Cheek in the Fulham line-up today and showed his manager and teammates what they've been missing in his absence, scoring the opening goal and having significant involvement in the second.

Teams

Fulham: Areola; Aina, Adarabioyo, Andersen, Robinson; Anguissa, Lemina (Reed 45'), Cairney; Reid (Cavaleiro 84'), Mitrovic, Lookman (Bryan 89').

Subs not used: Rodak, Odoi, Ream, Loftus-Cheek.

West Bromwich Albion: Johnstone; Furlong, Ivanovic, Ajayi, Townsend; Gallagher, Livermore (Sawyers 56'), Krovinovic (Phillips 70'); Pereira (Robinson, 56'), Grant, Diangana.

Subs not used: Button, Bartley, Gibbs, Edwards.

Referee: Simon Hooper

Up next

Fulham will hope to build on their first win of the season here when they travel to fellow Londoners West Ham United next Saturday.

Meanwhile, West Brom will host Tottenham Hotspur a day later at The Hawthorns.

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