Neil Redfearn’s side are 3-0 winners over 10-man Fulham...
FULHAM 0, UNITED 3 (Byram 40, Bamba 48, Antenucci 88).
Fulham: Bettinelli, Richards, Hutchinson, Turner, Stafylidis, Hoogland, Parker, Tunnicliffe, Ruiz (Kacaniklic 63), McCormack (Fofana 83), Smith. Subs. Kiraly, Bodurov, Kavanagh, Woodrow, Rodallega.
United: Silvestri, Wootton, Bellusci, Bamba, Berardi, Cook, Murphy, C Taylor, Mowatt (Antenucci 82), Byram, Sharp (Morison 67). Subs. S Taylor, Cooper, Sloth, Doukara, Cani.
Referee: C Kavanagh
Booked: Stafylidis (Fulham), Sharp, Bamba (United)
Sent-Off: Stafylidis (Fulham)
The midweek trip to Fulham saw United head coach Neil Redfearn make just one change from the goalless draw with Nottingham Forest as Sam Byram returned from injury to replace Steve Morison on the right of attack.
The hosts started on the front foot and carved the evening’s first sight of goal after just six minutes. The ball found its way to Ross McCormack inside the area but Marco Silvestri was equal to his effort, denying the former United striker with a strong, two-handed save down to his left.
Silvestri then acrobatically tipped a dipping Bryan Ruiz strike over the bar before Konstantinos Stafylidis forced the Italian into another low stop from range in a frenetic start to proceedings at Craven Cottage.
And the early Fulham onslaught showed no signs of easing for Redfearn’s side as another ex-United man, Matt Smith, saw his towering header pushed away after being found by McCormack’s floated ball over the top. There were looks of disbelief among the home fans as the resulting Ruiz corner clipped the crossbar.
United were looking for ways to stem the tide after riding their luck somewhat inside the first 20 minutes, but Fulham continued to press and perhaps their best opening fell to Smith at the back post following McCormack’s free-kick, but he could only nod wide from six yards out.
United’s first sniff at the opposite end came inside the 22nd minute as Giuseppe Bellusci tried his luck from range, only to see his speculative half-volley bounce into the arms of Cottagers goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli.
A brief spell of United possession followed, before Fulham had the ball in the back of the net on 31 minutes, but McCormack’s side-footed volley was ruled out for offside after meeting Smith’s downwards header inside the area.
Further chances for McCormack and full-back Tim Hoogland came for Fulham before half-time, but it was United who eventually broke the deadlock on the 40th minute to the delight of the travelling army.
A pin-point cross from Gaetano Berardi out on the left found Byram arriving unmarked inside the area, and the 21-year-old, now the top appearance maker currently at the club, guided his header into the ground and beyond the helpless Bettinelli to take a slender lead into the break.
The two sides re-emerged unchanged and United got the second half off to a dream start as Sol Bamba doubled the lead within three minutes of the restart. Alex Mowatt’s corner was allowed to bounce inside the area and Bamba stormed in at the back post to power a header into the top corner for his first goal in United colours.
And things went from bad to worse for the hosts two minutes later as Stafylidis, initially booked for dissent in the aftermath of Bamba’s goal, was shown a second yellow card by referee Chris Kavanagh after bringing down Byram by the corner flag.
The one-man advantage soon became visible as United started to dominate possession inside the Fulham half. Mowatt tested Bettinelli from outside the area, but the goalkeeper was able to clutch his low strike.
Fulham’s goal-threat remained, though, particularly from set-pieces, as Michael Turner crashed a header against Silvestri’s far post and Smith drilled wide in a timely reminder of the hosts’ capabilities.
Morison was introduced by Redfearn, replacing Sharp on 67 minutes, and the striker could have extended the lead even further if it wasn’t for the last-ditch interception of a white shirt inside the area to cut out Byram’s low cross.
Another bout of Fulham pressure followed and Smith twice spurned good chances in front of goal, powering a back-post header wide before firing into the grateful arms of Silvestri after substitute Alexander Kacaniklic had carved an opening.
McCormack then glanced a close-range header inches wide, but it proved to be his final contribution as he made way for Seko Fofana with seven minutes remaining on the clock after pulling up injured. United themselves made a change in the closing stages, replacing Mowatt with Mirco Antenucci.
And the Italian striker was soon able to add his ninth goal of the campaign from inside the area after some industrious play from Byram down the right, skinning his man before Bettinelli pushed his cross into Antenucci’s path to hammer home on the rebound.
At the opposite end, though, Silvestri’s work was not done and the United stopper pulled off another stunning reflex save to push away Kacaniklic’s searing strike inside the four minutes of stoppage time.