Fulham’s race is run and, even though they have seen fine margins go against them in recent weeks, there was no hard luck story to tell this time. They were as methodical and controlled as ever but lacked punch and, ultimately, the degree of unpredictability that might have sucked Burnley towards the relegation mire. Instead Scott Parker and his players have fallen right through it, the second yo-yo team to have been condemned to more of the same after West Brom’s demise the previous day, and they were simply beaten by a better side. Burnley made a period of fierce pressure late in the first half count, Ashley Westwood and Chris Wood both scoring clinically, and made certain of a sixth straight season at the top level.
For all Fulham’s good intentions, the last rites were being rehearsed by half-time. Their problem all season has been that periods of neat, tidy play have not yielded enough while clinical opponents punish them: the warning signs had started to announce themselves here before Burnley, happy to commit men forward in an effort to make their final three games feel considerably less onerous, effectively sealed their fate.
The opener was well worked, Matt Lowton directing a diagonal ball to Matej Vydra and inviting the forward to run into space down the left. Vydra checked outside Joachim Andersen and, just managing to keep the ball in, cut back sharply from the byline. Alphonse Areola got an outstretched finger onto his centre but Westwood, arriving from midfield, readjusted his feet to squeeze home his second goal in three games. Vydra had teed up a near-identical finish for Wood a little earlier but had run beyond the pitch’s limits on that occasion; he did not need to fret that further chances might be scarce.
Shortly before Westwood’s goal, Wood had seen a diving header flick millimetres wide off Tosin Adarabioyo before forcing Areola to save at point-blank range from the subsequent corner. He would not be denied as the interval neared. Fulham already appeared to have been terminally jolted, Vydra lashing across goal and wide, and Wood knocked them flat with a thumping strike. He was slightly lucky then the ball ricocheted off him to Josh Brownhill, but took his colleague’s return pass and gave Areola no chance with a fierce half-volley. It brought Wood’s Premier League tally over the past two seasons to 25 and sustained the thought that there may be no more underrated centre-forward in the league.
Parker had shouted himself hoarse from the side and Fulham, forcing the issue for the first half-hour, attempted to respond to his demands. But they had little to show for their pressure beyond a flurry that saw James Tarkowski superbly deny Ademola Lookman a close-range finish before, seconds later, Lookman headed over from six yards.
Aleksandar Mitrovic was selected up front but the nearest he offered to a warrior’s performance was a pointless off-the-ball foul on Tarkowski. He had scored twice the last time Burnley came here in the league, nearly three years ago, but a performance that sprightly felt galaxies away. Fulham made sustained efforts to claw the deficit back after half-time, Josh Maja pressed into duty from the bench to bolster their threat, and Mitrovic did head into the side netting just before the hour.
Their by-now sustained attacks evinced little conviction, though, and Burnley rarely appeared uncomfortable. Parker’s side had not amassed a three-goal haul since the second weekend of the season and the chances of a repeat against supremely-drilled opponents seemed vanishingly slim. They howled for a spot kick after Charlie Taylor dispossessed Ivan Cavaleiro in the box but to no avail and, when André-Franck Zambo Anguissa rattled the bar from 18 yards with their best effort of the night, the game was as good as up.
Burnley had offered little as an attacking force after going two up, although rightly felt aggrieved Areola was not sent off after replays showed he handled outside the box as Vydra looked to head past him. That flicker of controversy never looked remotely consequential, though. When Mitrovic nodded over with a minute to play, Parker looked on with arms folded and knew he would be asking Fulham to rouse themselves yet again in the Championship.