Mitrovic returns to keep play-off bound Fulham dreaming of quick return to the top
Fulham 2 Cardiff City 0
Back after suspension. Made captain in the absence of an injured Tom Cairney. On target to stay top of the Championship’s goalscorers list. Life is never dull for Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Fulham did rather well without him, winning all three games since the Serb was banned for that stray elbow at Leeds, but they welcomed him back with open arms and their faith was justified.
He slammed in a 35th minute penalty – a spot-kick he won himself – to make it 24 goals for the season and the Whites went on to secure the victory which confirmed their place in the play-offs.
Josh Onomah plundered a second goal for the Whites on 66 minutes and the win was never less than comfortable after that. They have won four in a row now after losing the first two games after the league’s restart.
Automatic promotion remains a very long shot with three to play, but Fulham travel to second-placed West Brom on Tuesday so can dream a little longer about closing the four-point gap that currently exists.
The Whites started timidly and the nearest we came to a goal before the first drinks break was when Marek Rodak needed strong wrists to block a full-blooded effort from the bulky Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, who was gifted some prime penalty area real-estate, thanks to some messy defending.
But with neither side looking particularly threatening, the Whites got their noses in front after Cardiff defender Dion Sanderson was adjudged to have manhandled Mitrovic as the Fulham striker rose to try and meet a cross from Cyrus Christie.
It looked a harsh decision, but the Serb grateful accepted the penalty award, sweeping a perfect shot into the top corner past Alex Smithies’ left hand for his 24th goal of the campaign.
Joe Ralls nearly drew the Bluebirds level moments later when he clipped a left-foot volley onto the roof of the crossbar, but Bobby Reid twice went close to increasing the lead against his old former club.
First he hit a dipping shot from outside the area, which Smithies saved superbly, tipping the ball onto the bar, then, just before the break, he contrived to send a glancing header wide from four yards when a cross from the left by Anthony Knockaert had left him with the goal at his mercy.
Fulham had a big penalty shout after an hour, when there were appeals for a handball and possible trip on Mitrovic during a goalmouth scramble, but not long after, Onomah - scorer of the late winner against Birmingham City last weekend - cracked in goal number two to put the Whites into the comfort zone.
The midfielder fired in after exchanging passes with Stefan Johansen, who had only just come off the bench in place of Harry Arter.
There was nearly a little gloss added by two of the subs. Neeskens Kebano, with a header, and Ivan Cavaleiro with a low shot might have made it three. But Cardiff had already been mortally wounded – their own play-off hopes dented as they fight to hold on to sixth place.
Fulham: Rodak – Christie, Hector, Ream, Bryan – Arter (Johansen 60), Reed (Sessegnon 84) – Onomah (McDonald 84), Reid (Kebano 78), Knockaert (Cavaleiro 78) – Mitrovic. Subs not used: Bettinelli, Odoi, Mawson, LeMarchand