Fulham moved closer to the top two in the Sky Bet Championship on Friday night with a narrow 1-0 win over Middlesbrough.
Fulham started this one in impressive fashion, knowing that a win could take them to four points behind Leeds United in the automatic spots.
We’ve seen at times this season the Lilywhites have been determined to pass their opponents to death and so that seemed to be the game plan in the first half.
For around 25 minutes or so, the Cottagers pulled Middlesbrough this way and that and chances came thick and fast.
Anthony Knockaert had the opening pair of openings, twice finding space as he cut in from the right but his left-footed efforts would not break the deadlock.
Soon, though, the winger was on the scoresheet with Joe Bryan’s drilled cross providing him with the easiest of finishes.
Fulham’s start warranted a goal and they had it but the following 20 minutes deserved goals too; goals that did not come.
Josh Onomah would miss two big chances – both set up by Knockaert whilst he also proved provider as he linked up with Ivan Cavaleiro who should have found the net but instead blazed over with a lack of composure.
Fulham were getting close to the 80% possession mark by the time we got to the 25th minute but as chances came and went, the away side gradually got into this one.
Without Aleksandar Mitrovic the hosts were still in sight and that clearly buoyed Boro who finished the half in far better condition.
Hayden Coulson would hit the crossbar as he surged forward and saw his cross deflected goal-bound via Denis Odoi.
On the other flank, Djed Spence was also getting forward and the two wing-backs – along with Patrick Roberts against his former side – were helping Boro up the pitch and gain territory. An equaliser, though, was something they couldn’t yield before the break.
After the interval, Middlesbrough continued to show signs of growing confidence. For the first 20 or so minutes after the break they were the better side, probing often and again getting some joy from the wide areas in terms of getting the ball into the final third.
It was in the chances column they lacked numbers, though, and despite enjoying their own spell of possession at the beginning of a half, they couldn’t do much with it – the biggest of all shouts for the away end coming as fans called for a handball in the area against Josh Onomah, it wasn’t given.
That, though, did appear to wake Fulham up and with about 20 minutes to go they once again got back into the swing of things with Anthony Knockaert nearly slamming home a fine effort from outside the box.
Minutes later, they thought they’d finally earned a second, too, as Denis Odoi stooped to head home. Out came the somersault celebration, too, for him to only see the linesman’s flag raised when his feet had touched back down.
A wrong looking decision, initial replays suggested, to rule out an eye-catching bit of acrobatics from the full-back.
Perhaps with that, and the chances that were missed, in mind, then, this game was settled by the finest of margins.
Knockaert, who ended up down with cramp towards the full-time whistle, would prove the match-winner just six minutes into this contest and, perhaps given his overall performance and endeavour, he deserved to be the difference – his standing ovation minutes before the end as he came off proved testament to that.
Woodgate and Boro will be pleased with their resilience and with the manner they held on early on before posing their own threat but a lack of creating real clear cut chances cost them in the end.
Indeed, not converting their own big moments could well have cost Fulham on another day but, in the end, one was enough tonight.