Fulham promotion hopes still alive despite Cardiff defeat 

Fulham promotion hopes still alive despite Cardiff defeat 

Fulham’s Tom Cairney consoles Cardiff’s Joe Ralls following their Championship playoff semi-final at Craven Cottage last night. Picture: Clive Rose/Getty Images

Fulham 1

Cardiff 2

(Fulham win 3-2 on aggregate)

Neeskens Kebano’s fifth goal in four matches booked Fulham a London derby Championship play-off final with Brentford despite a 2-1 loss to Cardiff at Craven Cottage last night.

Congo winger Kebano’s neat finish sent Fulham into the final with a 3-2 aggregate win, even though Scott Parker’s men lost their semi-final second leg.

Curtis Nelson and Lee Tomlin struck to drag the Bluebirds back into the fight for a place at Wembley, after Fulham had prevailed 2-0 in south Wales on Monday.

But the in-form Kebano’s latest eye-catching goal proved the difference over the two-leg tie, sending Fulham to Wembley.

Former Paris St Germain trainee Kebano had toiled away on a 35-match drought dating back to December 2017 before the final weeks of his elongated season. The 28-year-old netted twice in the 5-3 win over Sheffield Wednesday on July 18, however, and has not looked back since.

His crucial close-range effort last night is the first of his five-goal glut to be converted from inside the area.More than that though, this was the finish that keeps Fulham’s dreams alive for an immediate Premier League return.

Any designs Fulham had on a comfortable night evaporated when Cardiff took the early lead.

A back-pedalling Marek Rodak had to tip the ball over his bar after Will Vaulks’ long throw bounced high off the firm surface. And from Joe Ralls’ corner Nelson thumped home a fine header, eight minutes on the clock.

Just 24 seconds after the restart, however, Fulham were level on the night and back in control of the tie.

Anthony Knockaert laid off to Bobby Decordova-Reid on the right flank, and his smart cross was met with an even more astute finish from the red-hot Kebano.

The Congo winger tiptoed round Cardiff’s static defenders to flick home in style, to calm the early storm.

Neil Harris’ visitors opened the second half as they had the first, finding the net with an early attack.

Half-time replacement Tomlin hooked in at the far post after Rodak’s weak punch.

The opportunistic finish had the Bluebirds leading 2-1 on the night— but still trailing Fulham 3-2 on aggregate.

Cottagers’ replacement Aboubakar Kamara drilled a low shot against the inside of the post and had to watch in frustration as the ball rolled to safety.

But Parker’s side continued to tighten up as the second half unfolded, and Cardiff kept pressing.

Nathaniel Mendez-Laing could not connect in a goalmouth scramble as the Bluebirds sought to level up the aggregate score. Fulham could not clear though, and Vaulks’ impressive hooked effort from 18 yards forced a fine save from Rodak.

Robert Glatzel blazed over late on as the luckless Cardiff pressed again, but this was Fulham’s night.

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