Fulham hold their nerve to edge ahead of Cardiff again in promotion race
Fulham 2 Sunderland 1
Aleksandar Mitrovic’s downward header at the far post sealed a great comeback from Fulham as they were given a huge scare in their bid to reclaim second spot in the promotion race.
For the first time in 16 matches they conceded the first goal and took a while to shake off the nerves which were inevitable given what is at stake.
But Lucas Piazon levelled before the break before Mitrovic bagged his 12th goal in an astonishingly prolific loan spell.
They still need Cardiff to slip up in at least one of their final two games, but for now the Whites have done all they can to crank up the pressure to maximum on Neil Warnock’s Bluebirds.
The Whites have a two point advantage with just next weekend’s visit to Birmingham City to come.
Chris Coleman did his very best to ruin his old club’s promotion push, with his already-relegated Sunderland side looking in the mood to spoil the hosts' ambitions.
And they were made to suffer early on. A clattering for Tom Cairney’s hip and the need to call for the wet sponge hardly easing the tension that was palpable from the start.
And those worry beads were needed even more after 28 minutes when Fulham found themselves a goal down.
A simple nod down found Joel Asoro just outside the area, and the striker rolled Matt Targett before sending a low shot past Marcus Bettinelli’s right hand.
Piazon almost restored parity with a left footer which went inches past an upright, but the Brazilian eventually found the net before the interval for his first strike since August.
Targett went off injured before the break, forcing Slavisa Jokanovic to shuffle his pack – Aboubakar Kamara coming on and Ryan Sessegnon dropping into the left back slot.
And with Piazon switched to the left side to accommodate Kamara on the right, the change brought instant dividends when Kamara combined with Ryan Fredericks for the defender to fire in a low cross which Piazon turned in at the far post. Keeper Jason Steele was only able to divert the ball into the scorer’s path.
There was greater purpose in Fulham’s play when they returned. Stefan Johansen curled a free-kick at goal, Mitrovic stung Steele’s palms and Cairney curled just wide – not once, but twice - as the moves began to flow at last.
Johansen’s deft touch from set pieces final bore fruit on 76 minutes when he floated a perfect free-kick to the back stick and the muscular Serb did the rest.
Chants of ‘Cardiff City. We’re coming for you!’ rang out at the Hammersmith End. Don’t they know it.
Fulham: Bettinelli – Fredericks, Odoi, Ream, Targett (Kamara 40) – McDonald – Piazon (Rui Fonte 74) Johansen, Cairney (Kalas 90) , Sessegnon - Mitrovic. Subs not used: Button, Norwood, Christie, De La Torre.