Fulham vs Preston North End. Sky Bet Championship.
Saturday 4 March 2017 18:36, UK
Chris Martin marked his return to the Fulham line-up with his side's second goal in a 3-1 victory over Preston to keep Slavisa Jokanovic's men in the hunt for a play-off place.
Martin, who was in dispute with Fulham in January after indicating he wanted to return to parent club Derby, was omitted from the squad for last weekend's trip to Cardiff.
But back in the starting XI, the striker doubled Fulham's lead on the hour with his 11th goal of the season after Sone Aluko had given the hosts a first-half lead.
Tom Barkhuizen brought Preston back into the game when he marked his full debut with a 67th-minute strike but Neeskens Kabano wrapped the win with Fulham's third 12 minutes from time.
Victory, which keeps the Cottagers in seventh place, five points adrift of the top six, was the perfect way for Fulham manager Jokanovic to mark his contract extension that will keep him at the club for the next two seasons.
But for Preston, defeat was a blow to their own hopes of making the play-offs with Simon Grayson's side now nine points off sixth spot.
Fulham looked the more convincing side as they totally dominated the first half and should have reached the interval with more than Aluko's goal to show for their efforts.
The breakthrough came in the 22nd minute after a well-worked move on the left-hand flank that saw Ryan Sessegnon release Kabano inside the area.
The Fulham midfielder worked his way to the byline before pulling a low cross back towards Aluko who produced a clinical first-time finish to send the ball beyond keeper Chris Maxwell.
Maxwell had to be alert to prevent Tomas Kalas adding a second five minutes before the break when the defender met Kabano's corner with a near-post flick.
On that occasion Preston reacted positively, immediately breaking through Barkhuizen with Aiden McGeady capping the move by drawing a rare save from Fulham keeper David Button.
It was clear Preston needed to improve dramatically if they were to get anything from the game but the second half started ominously for the visitors when Kabano's snap-shot was pushed onto the bar by Maxwell.
Daryl Horgan did manage to threaten Button's goal as the visitors finally got onto the front foot but hopes of a comeback disappeared when Martin added a second Fulham goal on the hour.
The Scotland international was sent clear inside the Preston area by Ryan Fredericks' pass and produced a neat, right-foot finish to place the ball beyond Maxwell.
Preston's response was impressive with Barkhuizen reducing the deficit seven minutes later after running in behind the home defence to collect McGeady's through-ball before keeping his nerve and beating Button with a precise, low shot.
But Kabano settled any home nerves when he collected Aluko's pass and stabbed his shot through Maxwell's legs.
Fulham boss Slavisa Jokanovic:
"We are around the top six and we now want to close the gap to the top six. This is our target and we are still in position to be fighting to play after the first week in May. We have taken 13 points from the last five games and my team plays with confidence.
"I believe that for my team, this is the best way to play for us, but it is not so usual in the Championship. And we are going to keep going. I am not so romantic, I always want to win. The choice of how we play is the way I think is the best way to get three points. In general where we are now, we can be relatively satisfied."
Preston assistant Glynn Snodin:
"We've come up against a good side today. I felt they were different class, a step above us. To be fair to our players they kept going and got back in it at 2-1. They have got belief as a unit and always believe we can get something from a game.
"But they (Fulham) are a good counter-attacking side with good footballing brains. And that's what we've been undone by today. It's great for Tom to get a goal and it was a great finish. We have to give credit to our players for what they have done today and what they have done this season."