Ajayi heads late West Brom equaliser against Fulham to keep unbeaten start going
Semi Ajayi’s controversial equaliser salvaged a 1-1 draw for West Brom against Fulham at Craven Cottage and maintained their unbeaten start to the season.
Ajayi headed in 10 minutes from time, to cancel out Anthony Knockaert’s opener, after Charlie Austin appeared to impede Fulham keeper Marcus Bettinelli at a corner.
It was a cruel blow for Fulham who would have clinched victory long before had it not been for a inspired display of goalkeeping by the visitors’ Sam Johnstone.
A game that began in soporific fashion amid shirt sleeves and shades in the mid-September sunshine sprang into life after 10 minutes.
The mood change was prompted by a delightful interchange between Ivan Cavaleiro and Tom Cairney. Cavaleiro flicked the ball cleverly into Cairney’s path and then collected the return pass before forcing Johnstone to tip his shot onto the post.
Johnstone excelled himself again when Harrison Reed sent Cairney free with an angled ball. The Fulham captain’s shot was firm, true and heading for the top of the net before Johnstone touched it with his finger ends onto the crossbar.
The best was yet to come from the 26-year-old Johnstone. After palming a Knockaert shot away for a corner, he produced a tip-over that was part-instinct, part-reactions but wholly brilliant to help Bobby Decordova-Reid’s bouncing close-range header over the bar.
West Brom were being over-run, yet might have taken the lead had Austin not skied a volley from a Darnell Furlong cross when Fulham’s marking went awry.
It was brief interruption of Fulham’s dominance. Knockaert was the next to go close, scooping a Cavaleiro cross wastefully wide.
Whatever was said by West Brom manager Slaven Bilic at half-time failed to produce an instant change as Fulham continued to lay siege to the Albion goal.
First, Joe Bryan forced Ajayi to slice a clearance onto the roof of his own net. Next, Aleksandar Mitrovic headed straight at Johnstone from a corner.
Finally, Fulham finally went ahead in the 48th minute courtesy of a moment of sublime skill and imagination from Knockaert. The Frenchman curled a lob that was as precise as it was impudent over the stranded Johnstone and into the far corner.
Craven Cottage expected a change in attitude from West Brom. Surprisingly, none came, so Bilic replaced both Jake Livermore and Matt Phillips before the hour mark, replacing them with Filip Krovinovic and and Kyle Edwards, respectively.
Again, the pattern of the match continued with Decordova-Reid forcing Johnstone into another full-length save.
Bilic responded with another substitution and Furlong sent a shot into the side-netting, while Hollywood actor Will Ferrell looked on.
Everything changed 10 minutes from time. The previously insipid Matheus Pereira’s corner was swung in under the bar. Bettinelli frantically tried to re-adjust his position and may have been impeded by a flailing arm from Austin.
He could do more than paw the ball on to the head of Ajayi who had the simple task of nodding West Brom level and preserving their unbeaten start to the season.