SLAV’S BOYS ARE WHITE-HOT
Top scorers send ominous warning to play-off rivals
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.”
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