Fulham took a step closer to Wembley with a 2-0 playoff semi-final first-leg victory over Cardiff at the Cardiff City Stadium on Monday evening.
In a game of two halves, Fulham settled proceedings with two pieces of individual brilliance.
A superb last ditch lunging tackle from Michael Hector had prevented Robert Glatzel from giving Cardiff an early lead after Marek Rodák parried Leandro Bacuna's drive from distance into the striker's path.
But the the visitors were much improved in the second period. Josh Onomah danced past three Cardiff defenders and cooly slotted home, before a superb Neeskens Kebano injury-time free kick confirmed Fulham's comfortable first-leg lead.
Key Talking Point
Cardiff were one of the Championship's form sides, having hit the ground running after football's return in June.
They looked to have continued this momentum into the playoffs as they enjoyed the better of the first half. Glatzel had two good opportunities, but a fantastic piece of defending and a disappointing finish prevented the Bluebirds from taking what would have been a deserved lead.
However, Cardiff were made to pay for these missed chances. Fulham came out all guns blazing in the second period and the hosts were forced to spend large spells defending deep in their own half.
Starting XI: Smithies (6), Bacuna (6), Morrison (6), Nelson (6), Bennett (6), Pack (5), Ralls (5) Mendez-Laing (5), Tomlin (7*), Hoilett (6), Glatzel (5)
Subs: Ward (5), Vaulks (5), Murphy (5)
The Cardiff forward oozed class. For the first 15 minutes anyway.
His quick feet and vision helped to set up chances for Glatzel inside the opening quarter of an hour, and if the Fulham backline was going to be unlocked, it was going to be from a piece of Tomlin creativity.
Cardiff struggled to get Tomlin on the ball in the second half, and were all the poorer for it.
Lee Tomlin is ridiculously talented and a joy to watch at times.— Callum (@WHUFCallum_) July 27, 2020
Key Talking Point
Fulham were dealt a key blow before kick off, as the division's top scorer Aleksandar Mitrovic was left out of the squad due to a slight injury problem.
His presence was sorely missed in the first half, with Tom Cairney's strike from distance and an Onomah half chance the only opportunities the visitor's created.
Fulham were a changed team in the second period. Their approach play was clever and intricate, they got bodies into the box and the dynamic front four of Bobby Reid, Anthony Knockhaert, Neeskens Kebano and Onomah were energetic and exciting.
Starting XI: Rodak (6), Christie (6), Hector (7), Ream (6), Bryan (6), Reed (6), Cairney (7) Knockaert (8), Onomah (8*), Kebano (8), Reid (8)
Subs: Kamara (5), Odoiat (5)
Fulham's entire front three were outstanding in the second half, but Onomah really caught the eye. He was imaginative, creative and unpredictable, and drove the visitors forward in an inspired performance.
His goal was a piece of sheer magic. Onomah majestically waltzed past three Cardiff defenders, and had the composure to match his skill to give Fulham the lead. It proved pivotal, and the momentum shifted and Scott Parker's side went on to dominate.
Josh Onomah has just walked through Cardiff's defence like they were cones. Fantastic stuff.— Kristan Heneage (@KHeneage) July 27, 2020
GIVE JOSH ONOMAH THE BALLON D’OR— Jack J Collins (@jackjcollins) July 27, 2020
Tottenham should look at this Onomah guy pic.twitter.com/klrDl156HI— JudeSummerfield (@judesummerfield) July 27, 2020
The pair meet in the second leg at Craven Cottage on Thursday, and the winner will play either Brentford or Swansea in the final at Wembley on 4 August.
Swansea take a slender 1-0 advantage into their second leg on Wednesday.