Ray Lewington’s Fulham side travelled to the West Country out of sorts 27 years ago. A strong start to the season, where they won three out of four, was followed by a drab run of two draws and two defeats.
The Robins has fared slightly better and sat one point and four places higher than their opponents in the table going into the fixture, and they went closest to breaking the deadlock when Scott McGarvey struck Jim Stannard’s crossbar.
But it was the visitors who drew first blood when Robert Wilson rolled a free-kick on the edge of the box to Gary Peters who smashed it low and hard into the bottom corner. The following week the matchday programme commented that Peters injured himself in celebration of the strike, “caused by the over-enthusiasm of the other players’ congratulations.”
City pressed for an equaliser before half-time but Fulham grabbed the game’s next goal on the counter attack. Wilson spotted Andy Sayer in space on the left-hand side, and the striker ran from his own half before finishing inside the near post for 2-0.
The Whites then killed the game after the restart when Jeff Eckhardt headed in off the bar from Justin Skinner’s chip, before a fine John Marshall solo effort made it four.
Rob Newman pulled one back for the hosts from the penalty spot following an apparent foul by Glen Thomas, but Fulham had the final say when Sayer capitalised on a poor backpass to net his second and confirm his side’s best away win since an 8-0 triumph at Halifax in 1969.
“What a delight that match turned out to be,” Chairman Jimmy Hill said of the game in his subsequent programme notes. “Not so much that we scored such superb goals and took the three points, but to hear the compliments flying in the Board Room afterwards about the determination of the Fulham lads to compete for every ball as if their lives depended on it.
“That is so very heartening, because probably at the end of the day Fulham’s health, life and future will depend on that attitude from everyone. Well done all.”
The display was nominated by Bobby Robson as the ‘Best Performance of the Day’ in the Barclays League – the first time Fulham had won the accolade. The Whites went on to finish fourth in Division Three, but were beaten 5-0 on aggregate by the Robins’ fierce rivals Bristol Rovers in the Play-Offs.
City enacted sweet revenge on Lewington’s men just 18 months later, though, as they were defeated – in true Fulhamish style – by the same scoreline on our next league trip to the Gate.
Relegation was a real fear for Fulham going into the game with just one win in eight, but things got off to the perfect start when Eckhardt’s second goal of the season put his side in front against the league leaders.
But Nicky Morgan equalised for the hosts, and the Whites fell apart thereafter. A mistake by Eckhardt allowed David Smith the opportunity to run through and round Stannard to put his side in front.
Newman extended the advantage when he was found unmarked from a corner soon after the restart, before Iain Ferguson made it 4-1 with a vicious shot that flew in via a Stannard arm.
Gary Shelton then completed the rout and, to compound Fulham’s misery, Steve Milton was tripped a yard inside the City box, only to be awarded a free-kick by the referee who had found himself 40 yards behind the play.
“Those of you who went to Ashton Gate will have been encouraged by the start we made,” Lewington said in ‘Lew’s Views’; his programme notes. “Jeff Eckhardt scored his second goal of the season early in the game and for a while we gave as good as we got.
“It was soon to fall apart however with Bristol City netting five times, two of the goals coming once more from set pieces. City probably deserved their victory but the margin hardly reflected the run of play.
“Nothing is going right for us at the moment and it doesn’t help when a couple of your own defenders collide with one another, as Jeff and Gavin [Nebbeling] did to provide Bristol with their second goal.
“Their fourth came after a handball which everyone except the linesman saw and when Steve Milton was brought down late in the game well inside the area, the referee awarded us a free-kick.”
The Whites stayed up despite taking just two points from their final four matches, while City went up in second behind Bristol Rovers.
The Club was in a sombre mood going into this game following the death of Chairman Mohamed Al Fayed’s son Dodi just days earlier in the car crash that also saw Princess Diana lose her life.
Manager Micky Adams had suggested that perhaps the match should have been postponed, but go ahead it did and Fulham went closest in the opening stages when Paul Moody’s header from a Robbie Herrera cross thumped the crossbar.
Just two minutes later, another Herrera delivery brought the first goal as Aidan Newhouse nodded in for his fourth strike in six matches.
We had to wait until the 78th minute for the clincher, which arrived when Moody’s shot was only parried by Robins goalkeeper Keith Welch, allowing substitute Richard Carpenter the opportunity to drill in via the post.
City won promotion via the automatic spots come the end of the season, while Fulham were unsuccessful in the Play-Offs against Grimsby Town.