Fulham recorded an impressive away victory on Boxing Day, beating Ipswich Town 2-0 at Portman Road thanks to goals from Chris Martin and Ragnar Sigurdsson. The Whites dominated proceedings in a one-sided fixture, their third win in the last five matches.
The Fulham faithful had made the long trek to East Anglia in their hundreds, and were greeted with a commanding first half from the Whites. Ipswich could barely get a sniff of the ball in the opening minutes as Fulham calmly passed it around, yet had few real chances to show for it. The Fulham attackers constantly were swapping positions in an effort to create space, but chances were few and far between. The sharp Denis Odoi found himself in a good crossing position midway through the first half, yet dragged his cutback behind the onrushing Fulham attackers.
Chris Martin should have scored minutes later when he found himself on the end of Scott Malone’s low ball from the left, yet the striker’s shot was straight at Bartosz Bialkowski in the Ipswich goal.
The Cottagers continued to dominate, yet found the first goal that they deserved hard to come by. But by the time it came, it was well worth the wait. Just under ten minutes before halftime, Stefan Johansen was fouled around 25 yards outside the box. Martin sized up the shot, and curled a delectable, curling free kick up and over the wall to open the scoring. It was a sensational strike, giving Fulham a crucial lead and leaving the keeper with absolutely no chance.
Yet Ipswich nearly got a fortuitous equalizer right before halftime. A lofted ball into the box was headed towards goal by the shaky Tim Ream, and David Button did well to claw the ball out for a corner. Disaster was averted, and the Whites went into the dressing room 1-0 up.
The Tractor Boys made two attacking changes at halftime, throwing on Leon Best and David McGoldrick up top to add some much-needed verve into their abject forward line. Initially, the change opened up the match, and Ipswich began to press Fulham higher up the pitch, exposing the poor technical skills of Ream and Button. Yet Fulham still persisted with passing the ball up from the back, strictly following the philosophy of Slavisa Jokanovic.
Fulham began to step up the pressure as the match opened up, pouring attack upon attack on the shaky Ipswich defence. After some good pressing led to an errant pass from Ipswich, Floyd Ayite seized on the opportunity and was one-on-one with Bialkowski. Yet the Togolose international missed the target from a tight angle after rounding the keeper, one of many clear cut chances that were squandered by the Whites.
In the 65th minute, Jokanovic brought on centre half Ragnar Sigurdsson for Sone Aluko, who had been brilliant all match. The change meant Fulham switched to a 3-5-2, with three centrebacks and Martin and Ayite leading the line up top. The tactical switch was an inspired one, and led to increased Fulham dominance. The Whites were finding many openings on the left wing, with Scott Malone and Stefan Johansen combining and whipping in quality crosses. One of these crosses was somehow missed by Ayite, wide open at the far post, who shanked his left-footed shot wide.
Ayite had another golden chance to double Fulham’s lead minutes later. Odoi broke on a superb counterattack and played Ayite in, but he again failed to score after being clean through with Bialkowski.
Just as nervousness was beginning to take over the away end, Fulham finally got the crucial second goal in the 78th minute. Stefan Johansen’s lovely corner was met with authority by the Icelandic substitute Sigurdsson, who headed into the bottom corner. Fulham’s victory was now all but assured, eliciting jubilant cries of “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way, oh what fun it is to see Fulham win away!” from the Fulham faithful.
In the end, the 2-0 scoreline flattered Ipswich. Fulham could have easily had five or six, and Floyd Ayite really should have bagged a hat-trick. The attack was rampant all afternoon, and the pace of Ayite and Aluko was lethal. The wingbacks also turned in superb performances, solid at the back and adventurous going forward. Johansen was omnipresent, breaking up many a Ipswich attack and acting as the catalyst for the Whites counters.
It was a clinical and dominant away performance from Fulham, the kind of match that is indicative of promotion contenders. Reading away on Friday night is now a true test of Fulham’s top six credentials; a win at the Madejski and the Whites will truly be contenders for the playoff places. Replicate the complete performance that they produced against Ipswich, and Fulham should be fine.