Parker re­lieved af­ter Ful­ham re­sist fight­back to reach fi­nal

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Football - By John Ai­zle­wood at Craven Cot­tage

Ful­ham 1

Ke­bano 9

Cardiff City 2

Nel­son 8, Tom­lin 47

Ful­ham win 3-2 on ag­gre­gate

It had been done be­fore. In fact, it had been done as re­cently as this year by Northamp­ton at Chel­tenham, but com­ing back from los­ing the home leg of a play-off semi-fi­nal by two clear goals always looked a step too far for Cardiff, against a Ful­ham brim­ming with Premier League qual­ity. So it proved, but only just.

As pre­dicted, Ful­ham will meet Brent­ford at Wem­b­ley on Tues­day for a seat at the top ta­ble, but they were given a fright last night. Once they took the game to their punch-drunk hosts in the sec­ond half, Cardiff won this bat­tle. With a touch more for­tune, and a less adept goal­keeper than Ful­ham’s Marek Ro­dak fac­ing them, Cardiff might have won the war.

“I’m gut­ted, but also very proud,” Neil Har­ris the Cardiff man­ager, said. “So close, so close. No ifs, no buts, we’ll be straight at it next sea­son. We’ll take what we’ve done here and we’ll be bet­ter.”

Scott Parker, the Ful­ham head coach, was a re­lieved man at the end. “We had con­trol and struc­ture in the first half, but in the sec­ond we did what we had to do to reach a fi­nal,” he said. “Some­times, it’s not about tech­nique, it’s about mind­set and tonight we had that.”

For Cardiff, there was no plan B, other than to ham­mer at Ful­ham’s door and hope it could be prised open. Joe Ralls slung in a cor­ner from the right af­ter eight min­utes and Cur­tis Nel­son rose above Cyrus Christie’s half-hearted chal­lenge to head his first goal since Novem­ber past Ro­dak. Game on.

Alas for Cardiff, the would-be fairy tale turned grim just 24 sec­onds later. Ful­ham swept down­field, Bobby Decor­dova-Reid crossed low and Neeskens Ke­bano, with­out a goal since 2017 be­fore scor­ing against Sh­effield Wed­nes­day 12 days ear­lier, swept home his fifth in four games. As you were.

The del­uge gal­vanised Ful­ham. Even with­out Alek­san­dar Mitro­vic, whose ham­string had not healed enough to tempt Parker into of­fer­ing the Serb as much as a berth on the bench, they oozed men­ace, but Cardiff reached the break with hope, if not ex­pec­ta­tion.

Lee Tom­lin emerged for the sec­ond half and within two min­utes he had scored. Ful­ham could not deal with a long throw un­til Ro­dak ath­let­i­cally turned aside Nathaniel Men­dez-Laing’s header. Tom­lin pirou­et­ted and smashed the loose ball into the goal, Game, once again, on.

This time Ful­ham did not rally in­stantly and, with Men­dez-Laing of­fer­ing power and pre­ci­sion, Cardiff be­gan to ex­ert real pres­sure. When Danny Ward failed by mil­lime­tres to con­nect with Le­an­dro Ba­cuna’s cross, Ful­ham be­gan to look rat­tled and the seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble be­gan to look dis­tinctly pos­si­ble. Yet when Alex Smithies saved bril­liantly from a fear­some Aboubakar Ka­mara shot, and then the same player beat Smithies but not the in­side of the post, nat­u­ral or­der seemed to be re­stored.

Cardiff, though, were far from fin­ished and, in one hell-for-leather scram­ble, Ro­dak saved from Men­dez-Laing and then Will Vaulks. Parker soon sac­ri­ficed Anthony Knock­aert for de­fender De­nis Odoi and Ful­ham stum­bled over the line. Just.

Ful­ham (4-5-1) Ro­dak; Bryan (Le Marc­hand 90), Hec­tor, Ream, Christie; Cair­ney, Onomah, Reed, Ke­bano (Ka­mara h-t), Knock­aert (Odoi 76); Decor­dova-Reid.

Subs Bet­tinelli (g), Jo­hansen, Mc­Don­ald, Cavaleiro, Sesseg­non, Maw­son. Booked Decor­dova-Reid, Ro­dak, Christie, Onomah.

Cardiff City (4-5-1) Smithies; Ben­nett, Mor­ri­son, Nel­son, Ba­cuna; Pack (Tom­lin h-t, Whyte 84), Vaulks, Ralls, Hoi­lett (Men­dez-Laing h-t), Murphy (Pater­son 81); Ward (Glatzel 71). Subs Etheridge (g), San­der­son, Pater­son, Bamba, Smith. Booked Mor­ri­son, Ba­cuna, Vaulks, Ralls. Ref­eree Paul Tier­ney (Wi­gan).

Close call: Im­pres­sive Ful­ham goal­keeper Marek Ro­dak saves a goal­bound shot from Cardiff City mid­fielder Nathaniel Men­dez-Laing

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