Bobby Decordova-Reid and Michael Hector, Fulham’s Jamaican duo, took a step closer to competing in the English Premier League (EPL) next season following their club’s 3-2 aggregate success over Cardiff City on Wednesday (30 July).
Both played significant roles for differing reasons. Striker Decordova-Reid set up the immediate equaliser on nine minutes, came close to bagging a first-half goal but was booked in the second half. Centre back Hector, as industrious as ever, was unfortunate to be responsible for Cardiff’s second strike that deflected off him and back towards the gaping goalmouth.
Although Fulham fell 2-1 at Craven Cottage to the Welsh side in the second leg tie, the overall result sets up an intriguing Championship play-off final against West London neighbours Brentford for a Wembley showdown on 4 August.
With the match worth potentially more than US$100m in terms of sponsorship deals and TV rights to the winning side, should they reach the EPL, it was a tense rollercoaster encounter.
The game came to life early on when Fulham keeper Marek Rodak was beaten in the eighth-minute, Joe Ralls’ inswinging corner from the right neatly and calmly headed home by Curtis Nelson at the back post.
But the Welsh joy didn’t last long and injured Aleksandar Mitrovic, the 26-goal hitman, was left punching the air in delight in the stands after watching his team-mates net an equaliser just 24 seconds after conceding.
Decordova-Reid, who started for the second successive game in place of Serbian star Mitrovic, sent in a low cross from the right that Neeskens Kebano polished off to restore Fulham’s overall two-goal advantage. The whizzy DR Congo international was named after Johan Neeskens, the former Ajax and Netherlands icon in the 1970s.
And powerful figure Decordova-Reid appeared to be through on goal on the half-hour mark, picked out with perfection by Anthony Knockaert, only for Sean Morrison to deal with the danger. The Cardiff skipper sensationally and courageously got a vital leg in to take the ball on the edge of the area for what was arguably the best tackle of the action-packed game.
Decordova-Reid’s fellow Jamaican team-mate will have felt extremely hard done by when he gifted Lee Tomlin a goal on 47 minutes, the opening attack of the second half. Busy Rodak parried away Nathaniel Mendez-Laing’s back post header that Hector inadvertently deflected into the path of the striker, who swiftly swivelled and pounced to volley home in at the near post.
Frustration set in for the hosts, given the runaround by the Welsh outfit who were desperation to snatch a third goal that would have forced extra time. Decordova-Reid lost his cool and was shown a rare yellow card, cautioned for blocking a clearing kick from Cardiff shotstopper Alex Smithies.
But despite the jitters Fulham boss Scott Parker claimed his first play-off campaign as a manager and will be seeking revenge against Brentford, having tasted defeat to their neighbours in their first game back following the enforced break because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Brentford overturned a 1-0 first-leg deficit against Swansea City with a 3-1 second-leg triumph on 29 July, which confirmed their spot at Wembley Stadium. Thomas Frank’s team bossed their last ever match at their Griffin Park ground, their home since 1904, with their intention to kick-off their new stadium with a EPL campaign.
But Jamaica’s pair of Reggae Boyz, competing at each end of the pitch, will have other plans as they each aim to return to the top flight. Decordova-Reid has played in the EPL for Cardiff City, whereas Hector failed to make a single senior appearance in his four seasons with Chelsea from 2015.
Hector explained to Sky Sports, who exclusively broadcast the match live: “We knew what was coming, they were always going to throw caution to the wind. The goals were a bit sloppy, but we are through to the final and that’s the main thing.
“In the recent game against Brentford we didn’t take our chances and they caught us cold at the end, but this play-off final is a one-off game and anything can happen.”
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