Digital Football Journalist @ronnabe
Fulham 1-0 Cardiff: Ryan Babel's superb strike leaves Cardiff on brink of relegation
Report and highlights as Fulham win third game in succession
Last Updated: 27/04/19 11:20pm
Ryan Babel's sensational second-half strike left Cardiff facing an uphill task for Premier League safety following their 1-0 defeat at Fulham.
Babel struck a first-time curling effort from 25 yards which gave Neil Etheridge no chance to settle a game of little quality at Craven Cottage.
The Dutchman's moment of magic proved a rare bright spark for either side, with Cardiff lacking the intensity expected from Neil Warnock's side, who badly needed a win to keep themselves on Brighton's tail, and an eight-minute, first-half stoppage after Denis Odoi was knocked unconscious did little to aid the tempo.
Fulham: Rico (7), Odoi (6), Le Marchand (6), Ream (7), Bryan (7), Chambers (6), Anguissa (7), Sessegnon (6), Cairney (8), Babel (8), Mitrovic (6).
Subs: Christie (7), Mawson (n/a), Ayite (n/a).
Cardiff: Etheridge (7), Peltier (6), Morrison (7), Manga (6), Bennett (6), Mendez-Laing (6), Camarasa (7), Bacuna (5), Gunnarsson (5), Hoilett (6), Niasse (5).
Subs: Ward (7), Healey (6), Reid (n/a).
Man of the match: Ryan Babel
However, having failed to force a save of note out of Fulham goalkeeper Sergio Rico until the final five minutes, when Sean Morrison and Danny Ward both went close, they are now four points adrift of safety with two games remaining after Brighton drew 1-1 with Newcastle, and realistically needing to win both of their final two games against Crystal Palace and Manchester United.
How Fulham edged out Cardiff
With Fulham enjoying fine wins over Everton and Bournemouth in their last two outings and Cardiff desperate for three points, the scrappy, slow first half which developed may have surprised both benches.
It took 12 minutes for either 'keeper to make a save, when Aleksandar Mitrovic's 20-yard shot on the turn was kept out at full-stretch by Etheridge.
Odoi was hurt when Maxime Le Marchand's boot struck him in the chest and knocked him clean out midway through the first half, with the defender carried from the pitch with his neck in a support following a lengthy stoppage, after which Fulham continued on the front foot.
Whatever words Warnock had for his players at half-time did little to knock some life into them, with Rico a passenger before the break and similarly untroubled once the second half got under way.
Four minutes into the second 45, Mitrovic should have scored when Tom Cairney, cutting in from the right, showed excellent composure to pick him out unmarked, but the striker turned his low pass well over from 15 yards.
The game continued with the same attritional approach from before the break, until 11 minutes from time when Babel stepped up to finally inject some quality.
- Fulham welcomed back Tom Cairney after the birth of his child, and dropped Jean Michel Seri to the bench.
- With Joe Ralls out for the season, Cardiff replaced him with Leandro Bacuna.
Ryan Christie made a superb 40-yard run out of defence and laid the ball back for the Dutchman, who curled a shot from the right channel away from Etheridge and into the far corner.
Late on Morrison and Ward both turned crosses goalwards but made life too easy for Rico, who saved both comfortably, and he was again able to hold on to the ball when Morrison nodded a glorious chance straight into his hands in the final seconds.
- Fulham have won three consecutive Premier League matches for the first time since March 2012.
- This was Cardiff City's 13th away Premier League defeat of the season - only Huddersfield (14) and Fulham (15) have lost more.
- Fulham have taken nine points from their last three Premier League games - as many as in their previous 20 games combined (W2 D3 L15).
- Cardiff had eight shots on target in this match - with all seven coming in the 73rd minute or later.
- Fulham's Ryan Babel scored his 17th Premier League goal and his first from outside the box.
- Cardiff manager Neil Warnock has never won an away Premier League match in London in 16 attempts (W0 D3 L13).
- Cardiff striker Danny Ward made his 14th Premier League appearance in this match - he is yet to end on the winning side (W0 D1 L13), with only Marvin Sordell (17), Emanuel Villa (16) and Oliver Burke (15) playing more times in the competition without winning.
Scott Parker: "It was a tough afternoon, but really pleasing. Another clean sheet was good too against a competitive team, we knew what we were expecting, they're fighting for their lives, and we had to stand up and be counted at times.
"From the outset, all I can do is what's in my control, and that's setting up the team to try to win games and be organised. We're ding that and the players have been different class to me and how we're trying to do things - and we're enjoying things at the moment."
Neil Warnock: "On reflection, my team selection was wrong but we'll worry about that later on. You can't fault the lads though, they've been wonderful all season and who's to say we're not still in the fight?
"We had 10 shots in the last 10 minutes alone, there's only one player on the pitch who would have scored their goal, and unfortunately for us he took it. No complaints about that. But we should be scoring some of those chances."
Man of the match - Ryan Babel
Babel and Cairney were both running the show for Fulham prior to the former's goal, but it is difficult to argue he should not take home the fictional champagne after a strike like that.
The pair were both lively, and everywhere - left, right, through the middle - as Fulham's attacking play improved after half-time, even if their final ball did not.
But Babel's tenacity and quality on the ball, providing two key passes and winning 58-per-cent of his duels during the afternoon, showed his unique importance to Fulham, even if that does prove to be short-lived.
Fulham travel to Wolves next Saturday for a 3pm kick-off, while Cardiff host Crystal Palace on the same day in the late game, which gets under way at 5.30pm.