Scott Parker positively bounced off the Craven Cottage pitch and it was not hard to understand why. There had only been one option for Fulham here: defeat the Premier League’s bottom-placed team and confirm a degree of substance is developing alongside their sound structure and agreeable style.
This was an uncomfortable watch but the route to success did not especially matter. Fulham are now three points adrift of Newcastle, who they host on the final day of the season, and notwithstanding a surprise at Old Trafford tomorrow, they suddenly carry the momentum in a once-moribund relegation battle.
A few weeks ago Sheffield United might have hoped to say the same but that fire has now fizzled out. They required a victory of their own here to maintain any pretence of contact with safety and their goose is surely cooked. Although they dug a foothold with a mucky first-half performance, the Blades waited too long to display any attacking initiative and, while they departed with a strong sense of grievance, a point would have made little difference to any lingering prospects of survival.
“The pressure was on,” Parker admitted. “It was a result game tonight and probably performance second, although I do think we got both. I’m very proud of the team. We all understood what this game was about.”
It was little surprise that Ademola Lookman, the brightest forward on the pitch, broke United’s resistance. The match had opened up a little after half-time, as everyone involved ultimately needed it to, and Lookman found himself in space in the 61st minute after controlling a marvellously flighted pass by Joachim Andersen. He appeared to have shown too much of the ball to Ethan Ampadu but the defender got his feet in a mess and Lookman nipped back in, darting inside from the left and drilling beneath goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale.
His first goal for Fulham had come against the same opponents; this one, his fourth, could prove priceless. So could the decision by the referee, Martin Atkinson, and subsequently the VAR official, Peter Bankes, not to award Sheffield United a penalty two minutes from the end of normal time.
The substitute Jayden Bogle had latched onto Kean Bryan’s header but met heavy resistance from Alphonse Areola and ended up in a heap. To some minds it was a heroic block, the keeper diverting the ball away with his left foot before clipping Bogle with his right. To Chris Wilder it was a gross miscarriage of justice and, given the force of the collision, one could at least see where he was coming from.
“It’s a reckless challenge and it’s a penalty all day long,” he said. “There’s no question about it. I’m seeing a different game from anyone saying it’s not a penalty. I’m not saying we were outstanding or dominated but once again fine margins have gone against us.”
The control until then had been Fulham’s although, for all their probing, it seemed for long periods that they were playing a familiar tune. Until Lookman’s goal they stood on their own as the division’s lowest scorers at home and that rarely looked likely to change in an opening period that brought few alarms for Wilder’s side.
But a shot from Loftus-Cheek soon after the break, half-saved by Ramsdale and hacked away by George Baldock, signposted what would follow and the Blades could not find a way back. Enda Stevens shot too close to Areola and they threw the cavalry forward in those dying moments, but Wilder was left to fume.
“They won’t have to put up with us much longer but there’ll be another promoted team that gets the poor decisions we’re on the end of,” he said.
Fulham, by contrast, could yet emerge from this season on the right side of everything.