Fulham will no doubt be hoping they face Huddersfield Town in the end-of-season play-offs after taking another big step towards securing a top six spot in the Championship’s big promotion encounter of the day.
A remarkable turnaround in their first half fortunes saw Slovisa Jokanovic’s side score four times in the space of 29 minutes to seal their fourth successive League win and underline the fact that they have vital momentum in the final straight.
This contest was potentially a dress rehearsal for the play-offs, so it will be Fulham relishing such a prospect more than Huddersfield after an emphatic win which means they have put nine goals past David Wagner’s side in two meetings this season.
It was certainly a rude awakening for Huddersfield, who had ambitions of putting pressure on Newcastle for an automatic promotion place before the game, but finished a harrowing experience with some concerns about their own play-off spot.
After Chris Lowe had fired The Terriers in front from the penalty spot, the game turned on its head as Scott Malone and Tom Cairney struck in a four-minute spell before Stefan Johansen’s well-taken double effectively wrapped up the win.
Not surprisingly, Jokanovic refused to get too carried away with such a great result, saying: “We are playing with confidence, we are in a good mental moment and we believe we can play good football. We believe we can compete very well and we believe we have a good squad to do that.
“But there is no time to be looking at the table, only to focus on the few games we have remaining in this season, firstly against Brentford. We started a little bit confused here, but we showed great character to hit back with four goals in the first half.”
Wagner admitted: “We had a lack of concentration and at least three of the goals we gave away through individual mistakes. I know it sounds ridiculous but the first five minutes didn’t help us. We made a great start and scored, but then we got over-euphoric. Fulham are the strongest offensive side in the division and they punished us for doing that.”
Huddersfield’s Head Coach had wanted his players on the front foot again, after adopting a different style of play at Derby on Easter Monday, and they couldn’t have made a better start.
The overlapping Lowe was sent tumbling by a careless challenge by Floyd Ayite, and referee Andy Davies had little hesitation in pointing to the spot.
It fell to full-back Lowe to take the penalty and he had the composure to fire his left foot shot beyond the reach of the diving Marcus Bettinelli.
Fulham responded well to such an early setback and could have drawn level again in the 15th minute following a fine move down the left flank.
Malone’s initial cross into the six-yard box was cleared by Christopher Schindler after he had been released by Sone Aluko’s pass, but Huddersfield failed to clear the danger and Ryan Sessegnon was only a fraction too high with shot from 15 yards.
Huddersfield failed to heed that warning sign and when Ayite threaded pass through to the advancing Malone, he squeezed his shot home from a tight angle.
The pendulum swung further Fulham’s way in the 20th minute when Ayite’s eventful start to the game continued as he was brought down by Jonathan Hogg in the box.
Cairney’s eleventh goal of the season was confidently dispatched from the spot as Danny Ward dived the wrong way as the atmosphere changed dramatically with the scoreline.
Huddersfield hearts were in mouths on the half hour when Cairney tried his luck from long range and Ward moving smartly to his right was relieved to see it flash past the post.
But Fulham were not to be denied as they gained the comfort of a two-goal cushion nine minutes before the break when the right-hand side of Wagner’s defence was exposed once again as Sessegnon’s initial shot ricocheted to Johansen who finished in some style.
Huddersfield’s misery was complete in the final minute of the half when the unfortunate Hogg was caught in possession and with the home defence at sixes and sevens once again, Johansen punished them with another well-taken strike, all five goals by this point from left foot strikes.
The home crowd tried to lift their players at the start of the second half and they were up out of their seats in anticipation of renewed hope when Rajiv Van La Parra curled a 20-yard shot towards the far corner, but it drifted the wrong side of the post.
Moments later though, Sessegnon could have extinguished any hope of a Huddersfield fightback when he was sent clear, but Ward came to his side’s rescue.
Fulham were reminded then that they couldn’t take their foot off the pedal when Colin Quaner latched onto a mis-placed clearance, but his shot was smothered by the legs of Bettinelli.
After being the occupants of third place for so long, Huddersfield now slip to fifth and their fans could only console themselves with Leeds’ defeat at Burton.
Huddersfield Town (4-1-4-1): D Ward 6 - T Smith 5, C Schindler 6, M Hefele 6, C Lowe 7 - J Hogg 5 – J Lolley 6, A Mooy 7, P Billing 6 (Sub I Brown 54 mins, 5) - J Lolley 5 (Sub S Scannell 54 mins, 6), R Van La Parra 6 - C Quaner 6.
Fulham (4-1-4-1): M Bettinelli 6 – R Fredericks 6 (Sub D Osdoi 45 mins, 5), T Kalas 6, T Ream 7, S Malone 7 – K McDonald 6 - S Johansen 8 (Sub N Kebano 86 mins), T Cairney 7, R Sessegnon 6, F Ayite 7 - S Aluko 7. (Sub L Piazon 76 mins).
Referee: A Davies