Aleksandar Mitrovic and Neeskens Kebano both scored twice as Fulham won a nervy eight-goal thriller against Sheffield Wednesday to stay in the race for automatic promotion from the Championship.
The Cottagers knew victory against the Owls would keep them in the hunt for a top-two finish after Brentford were beaten by Stoke earlier on Saturday and West Bromwich Albion were undone by Huddersfield on Friday night.
The first of two well-taken Kebano goals put the hosts ahead early on before Mitrovic took his goal tally to 26 for the season with a double.
His first was a coolly taken first-time finish from a tight angle, while his second was somewhat less assured as he slipped in the process of putting his penalty away after Dominic Iorfa brought down Kebano.
Marek Rodak’s foul on Jacob Murphy soon after the interval allowed Atdhe Nuhiu to pull a goal back from the spot, but a Kebano free-kick restored the three-goal advantage before Murphy grabbed a second late on for the Owls.
Nuhiu set up a tense finish with an 89th-minute header, but Bobby Decordova-Reid’s injury-time goal from distance made the three points safe for a Fulham side that finished a man down after Harrison Reed was shown a second caution.
Fulham still in the automatic mix
Victory leaves Scott Parker’s side fourth in the table, but a win at Wigan on Wednesday, coupled with defeat for West Brom and anything less than a win for the Bees, would secure an immediate return to the Premier League.
Fulham’s failure to beat any of the three sides above them in the table since the Championship’s resumption, following the three-month interruption brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, seemed to have scuppered their aspirations for automatic promotion.
The draw against West Brom on Tuesday, which ended the London club’s four-match winning run following back-to-back defeats by Leeds United and Brentford in June, left Parker’s side five points adrift of second spot.
But defeats for West Brom and the Bees in the space of 24 season-defining hours have rekindled hopes, as well as handed Leeds promotion as league champions.
The Owls remain ensconced in mid-table, eight points from the relegation places and 14 adrift of the play-off spots, but also have the looming threat of a possible points deduction hanging over them.
Wednesday boss Garry Monk has previously said “it makes no sense” that the club are still waiting for a verdict over a charge of misconduct.
While there remains uncertainty off the pitch, the Yorkshire club’s on-field exertions have earned them eight points from a possible 24 since the Championship’s restart to keep them clear of relegation trouble.
Parker, perhaps forward planning for a play-off campaign, made five changes for the visit of Wednesday, with Reed and the fit-again Tom Cairney among those on the bench.
Kabano was one of the quintet to come in and he was quick to make an impact, cutting in off the left on 11 minutes to beat Joe Wildsmith at his near post with a low shot from distance.
Cyrus Christie twice tested Wildsmith before the break, his efforts coming either side of Mitrovic’s first goal of the afternoon – a well-placed finish inside the far post after running onto a brilliantly threaded pass from Josh Onomah.
Wednesday offered little threat going forward before the break and only invited further misery on themselves when Iorfa’s needless challenge on Kebano sent Mitrovic to the penalty spot.
A lunge from Rodak that felled Murphy after the break allowed Nuhiu to score from the spot, with the goal serving to spark Wednesday to life while Fulham began to look nervy for the first time.
Kebano’s clever low free-kick that skimmed under the wall in the 73rd minute looked as though it would settle the contest, but a heavy deflection off the attacker at the other end from a Murphy shot got the Owls back into it.
Nuhiu’s powerful header then raised panic, only for Decordova-Reid to hit back in emphatic fashion in a truly bizarre second half that ended with Reed sent off and banned for the all important final regular-season match.
Fulham manager Scott Parker: “It’s a massive win, result-wise it was key for us today, we understood that, we knew what was at stake.
“There were two scenarios obviously, and we saw the West Brom and Brentford results, so we knew we needed to win today to keep the automatic hopes alive.
“The result was key, and we stood up to that today. If our season ends on Wednesday, amazing, and if it doesn’t we’ll try to finish it off.”
Sheffield Wednesday boss Garry Monk: “To score three goals against a very good side but come off losing, through errors we have made, it is very frustrating.
“We make a few steps forward, then take a few back and that has proved very costly for us.
“They were poor goals and when we got them on the ropes, we compounded ourselves with more errors.”