Fulham’s search for a first league win of the season goes on but here was evidence that, contrary to what Mohamed Al Fayed thinks, Felix Magath does know what he is doing. The hosts were impressive against a side also reeling from Premier League relegation and, having taken the lead, looked set for three points. A draw means Fulham are at least off the mark and off the bottom of the Championship.
The manager, compared to Felix the Cat by Fayed, Fulham’s former owner, last week in an exchange of words that was as bizarre as it was heated, deserves credit. Under pressure after they had lost their opening four fixtures, he clearly had them focused on the job in hand. Buoyed, no doubt, by their midweek victory over Brentford in the Capital One Cup, Fulham struck through Tim Hoogland’s 22nd-minute header and continued to press forward even after Kenwyne Jones secured an equaliser out of nowhere in the second half.
This was by no means a perfect display by the hosts who, as Magath conceded, ultimately paid for their failure to take a host of first-half chances. But there was much to admire in the fluidity and purpose of their attacking during the early stages and desire to regain and retain possession throughout, with no one in white impressing more than Scott Parker. Deployed as the most advanced central midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 formation, the Fulham captain combined his usual tireless work with clever link-up play until his substitution on 82 minutes. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the Cardiff manager, described the 33-year-old as a “fantastic footballer” and on this evidence he will prove fundamental to Fulham’s hopes of climbing from 23rd, having swapped places with Blackpool following their defeat at Millwall.
For Magath the hope is that Fulham will build on this display after the international break and that the club’s supporters, a smattering of whom booed at the final whistle, remain patient. “I can understand the fans are afraid – last year we were relegated and at the beginning of this season we are at bottom, but it was necessary for the club to start again,” he said. “There are now many young players in the team and I ask people to not only look at the results but at what I am trying to do as a whole.”
Cardiff are also going through much change and it says much about the tumultuous nature of relegation that only three players who started when these sides met here in the Premier League 11 months ago also did so on Saturday. One of them was Parker and, having had the game’s first effort on goal with a long-range drive, he played a part in the breakthrough, directing a first-time pass out to Ross McCormack whose cross was then glanced in by Hoogland for the German’s second goal for Fulham since joining from Schalke in the summer.
Fulham continued to pour forward, combining crisp passing with clever movement, and McCormack, the former Cardiff player and a striker under scrutiny having scored once since his £11m arrival from Leeds, was also impressing from a wide-left role. He tested David Marshall shortly after the break. At that stage, it looked a matter of time before Fulham scored again. But then Jones struck on 55 minutes after combining neatly with Mats Daehli.
The contest evened out somewhat after that but the home team kept going and could have won it in stoppage time had Thomas Eisfeld shown more conviction with a close-range header.
“The response in the second half was pleasing,” said Solsjkaer. “We’ve now played five games and only had one defeat, which isn’t bad.”
Fulham would have loved a start like that. There is at least hope now for better to come.