BRING IT ON , SAYS JOYFUL JOKANOVIC
SLAVISA JOKANOVIC said he does not care which team his Fulham side face in the play-offs after they all but sealed a top-six finish with a draw against Brentford.
Tom Cairney gave Fulham an eighth-minute lead but then missed a penalty on the stroke of half-time after Nico Yennaris had equalised for Brentford in the 34th minute.
Sixth-placed Fulham will now take a three-point gap over seventhplaced Leeds into the final day of the league season, but their far superior goal difference – 27 to 14 – means only a freak pair of results can deny them a place in play-offs alongside Reading, Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield.
Jokanovic said: “Many strange things happen, but I don’t think it will happen next weekend. I am sure we are in the play-offs.
“I don’t know (if it is better to face one team over another). I have never played in a play-off. It’s 25 per cent for all the teams. We are going to play against quality teams in this competition whoever it is.
“I am not thinking it is better or worse to finish sixth. I really believe we have 25 per cent of a chance to be the promoted team and we are going to fight for it.
“We have enough experience to play against all the teams.”
Fulham, on the back of a fourmatch winning streak, made a positive start against Brentford and went ahead when Ryan Sessegnon latched on to a through-ball from Sone Aluke and cut back for Cairney to stroke home his 12th goal of the season.
Cairney could have doubled the advantage four minutes later after Stefan Johansen found him with another cutback from the left, but this time he lifted his left-footed shot over the crossbar.
The hosts spurned an even better opportunity in the 24th minute, Floyd Ayite scooping embarrassingly high into the stand after being played through on goal by Scott Malone.
And Fulham were punished for their profligacy when Yennaris played a one-two on the edge of the box with Konstantin Kerschbaumer and fired right-footed into the top corner.
Yoann Barbet’s foul on Johansen handed Fulham the chance restore their lead from the penalty spot, but Brentford goalkeeper Daniel Bentley dived low to his left to deny Cairney. And Bentley thwarted Cairney once again three minutes after the restart by plucking his left-footed shot out of the top corner, and Johansen then shot narrowly wide as the hosts pushed for a second.
But then Brentford began fighting back and Fulham goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli was forced into three smart saves, twice from Lasse Vibe and once from substitute Florian Jozefzoon.
Brentford manager Dean Smith praised his players for adapting to the circumstances, saying: “It was a different performance from us. In recent weeks it has been fast-flowing, attacking football. We had to defend resolutely.
“We gave away too many chances in the first half. It became more end to end in the second half; they dominated it more in the first half.
“We didn’t want to come here and allow Fulham to have a party. We didn’t allow them to have a party – they made the play-offs through other results.
“You only had to look at our bench to see we were down to our bare bones. Credit to the players who came in – they really took their opportunity.”
MADE IT: Fulham’s Stefan Johansen marks the end of a match which all but confirms the play-offs and, inset, Daniel Bentley saves from Fulham’s Tom Cairney