Top scor­ers send omi­nous warn­ing to play-off ri­vals

The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Chris Dunlavy

FLAW­LESS Ful­ham served no­tice of their pro­mo­tion am­bi­tions as Huddersfield were blown away by a first-half blitz.

Ful­ham, now the Cham­pi­onship’s high­est scor­ers, ripped the hosts to shreds with a breath­tak­ing at­tack­ing dis­play that will send shiv­ers through the other play-off con­tenders.

Goals from Scott Malone, Tom Cair­ney, and a Ste­fan Jo­hansen brace con­signed Chris Lowe’s third-minute penalty to con­so­la­tion sta­tus by the break and tight­ened the in-form Whites’ grip on sixth po­si­tion.

Slavisa Jokanovic’s men have now put nine goals past Huddersfield this sea­son and will make for­mi­da­ble op­po­nents for who­ever they meet in May.

“My play­ers are start­ing to be­lieve in them­selves,” said Jokanovic, whose side have won four of their last five matches. “I said many months ago they were a good foot­ball team but maybe they didn’t be­lieve me. They are start­ing to trust me now.”

De­feat ef­fec­tively ended Huddersfield’s slim hopes of catch­ing New­cas­tle, who will now seal a re­turn to the Premier League with vic­tory over Pre­ston on Mon­day. But boss David Wag­ner re­fused to be too down­beat.

“Au­to­matic pro­mo­tion was never on my mind,” he in­sisted. “For 45 years this club has waited for a play-off spot, a chance to play for a place in the Premier League. That is in reach.

“What this team has shown over the sea­son is to­tal con­sis­tency. We were out of the top six for only one week. We de­serve to be here and we must show that again in the next three games.”

For 15 min­utes, the Ter­ri­ers showed ex­actly why they have led the chas­ing pack for so much of an ex­tra­or­di­nary sea­son. Quick, com­bat­ive and swarm­ing for­ward, they led when Lowe won and then con­verted a penalty.

That, though, was as good as it got. “We started very well, scored a penalty and had fur­ther op­por­tu­ni­ties,” added Wag­ner. “But we were maybe over-eu­phoric and lost con­cen­tra­tion. We made sim­ple mis­takes and it cost us.”

Mis­takes doesn’t quite cover the level of in­ep­ti­tude on show. Joe Lol­ley re­peat­edly let Malone scream for­ward and was eventu-

ally pun­ished when the full-back drilled into the far cor­ner.

Jonathan Hogg then need­lessly tripped Floyd Ayite for a spot­kick which Cair­ney dis­patched for his 11th of the sea­son.

Hav­ing mopped up Ryan Sesseg­non’s blocked shot to slam home a third, Jo­hansen then robbed the dawdling Hogg, strode into the box and slot­ted be­yond the help­less Danny Ward.

Still Ful­ham pressed for­ward, the pace and move­ment of Ayite and Sone Aluko drag­ging Huddersfield out of shape. “Sta­tis­ti­cally, Huddersfield are one of the best teams in the league for pos­ses­sion,” said Jokanovic. “If we give them a chance they will dom­i­nate us. So we didn’t give them that chance.”

The home side did im­prove, largely thanks to the in­tro­duc­tion of Izzy Brown and the re­moval of Aaron Mooy from an in­ef­fec­tive No10 po­si­tion.

Ra­jiv Van La Parra hacked over while Collin Quaner beat the Ful­ham off­side trap only to be thwarted by Marcus Bet­tinelli. It was, though, far too late.

With Ful­ham po­ten­tial op­po­nents in the play-offs, Wag­ner in­sisted the 9-1 ag­gre­gate score­line was ir­rel­e­vant. “The first game (a 5-0 de­feat) was a bad game plan,” he said. “To­day, it was ob­vi­ous that we made easy mis­takes. They were com­pletely dif­fer­ent rea­sons.”

Jokanovic, mean­while, was at pains to stress that work re­mains to be done with Leeds just three points back in seventh.

“Peo­ple asked me in Septem­ber, ‘Will you be in the top six?’ I didn’t know and, with two games left, I still don’t,” he said. “But the good thing is that it de­pends on us.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

DOU­BLE TROU­BLE: Ful­ham’s Ste­fan Jo­hansen af­ter scor­ing the first of his two goals

AS GOOD AS IT GETS: Chris Lowe scores an early penalty

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