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Men's football Bournemouth survive late Fulham onslaught in top-of-the-table thriller under the lights

Solanke's 16th of the Championship season cancelled out by Tosin's late header, as visitors suffer another torrid second half

Fulham 1-1 AFC Bournemouth
by Dan Nolan
at Craven Cottage

THERE was nothing to separate the Championship’s top two sides on Friday’s scoresheet, as Tosin Adarabioyo’s late goal cancelled out Bournemouth striker Dominic Solanke’s sixteenth of the season in a thriller under the lights.

But for not the first time in the past several weeks, the Cherries were left clinging on for dear life as Fulham roared into action to claim a late draw — and in the end were unlucky not to take all three points. 

In a match with more sub-plots than your favourite soap opera, one immediately made itself known when ex-Fulham manager Scott Parker walked out of the tunnel to a small ripple of boos. The now Bournemouth boss later expressed his “immense pride” at having managed the club for two “unbelievable” seasons, and while it was the second of those that lingered in some fans’ memory, they hardly succeeded in making him a pantomime villain — even if the Christmas garlands were already up on the historic Craven Cottage.

More importantly – on the pitch – the match-up between the league’s top scorer Aleksandar Mitrovic and now joint-second Solanke had likewise received no shortage of pre-match attention.

While the latter got his goal, the former walked away empty-handed for no lack of trying — hitting seven of the hosts’ 24 shots in an attacking performance matched only by his indefatigable colleague, Neeskens Kebano, who was also unlucky not to score after showing such dominance down the left wing.

A Mitrovic effort late in the first half produced possibly the moment of the match, however — albeit due to the manner in which it was stopped. On a clear, driving run into the box from the left, cutting inside Gary Cahill for a gilt-edged chance on goal, the Serb unleashed a close-range strike that Cherries captain Steve Cook threw himself in front of with reckless abandon, before lunging in the opposite direction – still on the floor – to snuff out the follow-up from Fabio Carvalho, with what appeared to be his face.

The visitors celebrated it like a goal as they went into the half unscathed. And those on an extensive snack run could be forgiven for missing their opener just as the game resumed; the second half was about four touches old when Philip Billing launched a brilliant long ball to put through Solanke – still in kung-fu head bandage after a first-half knock – who let it settle for just a moment before striking into Marek Rodak’s top-right corner.

What appeared to be an opportunistic move was in fact a training-ground special, Parker later revealed. “We did a lot of work on Thursday and a lot of studying previous to that,” he said. “This game was always going to be decided on fine margins, so we worked hard on that — worked out where they were weak in those situations.”

But the 46th-minute showstopper came almost too early for the Cherries as they sat back, dabbled in premature time-wasting, and ultimately allowed Fulham to dominate the second period. 

A total of nine yellow cards were dished out — six belonging to Bournemouth, with many coming as the visitors wasted time (goalkeeper Mark Travers) or took one for the team to stop the break (right-back Adam Smith) as Fulham really began to grow into the game from the 60-minute mark.

Bournemouth’s dark arts only served to heighten the fervour inside the sold-out stadium, and Parker later admitted his side’s desperation to hang on as Fulham seized the initiative: Mitrovic hammering headers narrowly left, over the bar, and within Travers’s grasp, while Kebano saw two major chances saved and missed into the side netting as the clock ticked down. 

When it came, they had more than earned their equaliser. Having watched Billing’s ball fly over his head for the goal at the start of the half, Tosin was able to put his own to good use towards the end of it as he glanced home a redemptive header on 84 minutes. 

Coming after one of Fulham’s eleven corners, it was the culmination of a sustained period of pressure for the hosts, and assisted by second-half substitute Tom Cairney with just one of a string of excellent crosses.

Bournemouth had late opportunities to break as Fulham pushed for a winner, but they kept plenty of men behind the ball in the closing stages to ensure a draw — which Parker asserted was a point gained, not two points lost.

While it condemned Fulham to a third successive stalemate, it kept them a point clear of their key rival as they enter a run of games against opposition in the lower reaches of the table.

For their part, Bournemouth will be seeking improved performances – particularly in closing the game out – as they face a challenging run with games against Middlesborough, Blackburn and QPR in the Christmas period.

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