Mitrovic loves it back in the limelight, but Eagles earn a draw by cancelling out Serb's double
Fulham (1) 2 Mitrovic pen 45, 62
Crystal Palace (1) 2 Edouard 35, Ward 83
Aleksandar Mitrovic scored twice on his return to the Cottage – well of course he did – but Fulham had to settle for a share of the spoils.
A late goal from Eagles skipper Joel Ward – his first for four years – rescued a point for the visitors.
Having netted as a sub in last week’s win at Southampton on his return following the eight-game ban, Mitrovic followed up with his 14th and 15th goals of the season.
Not too bad for a player who can’t cut it in the Premier League.
He has been missed. There is no guarantee that Fulham would have made European qualification had he not missed those games, but it might have been closer.
He played a part in earning – and then converting – a penalty in first-half stoppage time to cancel out a goal from Odsonne Edouard before powering in a bullet header at the near-post from Willian’s free-kick from near the right touchline.
The Serb was not flawless by any means. There was rustiness evident in a missed open goal at the start of the second half when Harrison Reed set up a chance on a plate with a ball in from the right that Mitrovic rolled wide.
But the striker clearly loved being in the thick of it again – lapping up the adulation of home fans, who kept chanting ‘Mitro’s on fire’ to the tune of ‘Freed from Desire’.
And we knew almost straight away he would have a big say in the afternoon’s proceedings when he took a painful blow to the nose in a duel with former team-mate Joachim Andersen.
The clash looked accidental, but it was like tugging the tail of a lion for Palace, bringing inevitable consequences for them.
It’s fair to say the overall mood felt celebratory rather than visceral for a London derby at the outset.
After two previous disasters on their return to the top flight, this has been a joyous adventure for Fulham by comparison – full of great team performances and fine individual feats.
As well as Mitrovic being back after serving his long suspension for the ref shove at Old Trafford, Roy Hodgson was in the opposition dug out. Both received acclaim and chants of appreciation from the Hammersmith End.
All parts of the home areas were a sea of black and white flags – a handout to help spectators turn Craven Cottage into a Thameside river party barge.
The Eagles too have ended the season in serene mood after the freefall which did for Patrick Vieira was quickly consigned to distant memory by the steadying hand of ‘Uncle Roy.’
A scrappy start perhaps hinted at more modest motivations for mid-tabled outfits following an unusually long season. But there was enough to enjoy by the end.
Mitrovic’s homecoming was soon greeted by a crack on the nose which drew lots of blood.
The striker had to change his shirt, such was the splash of colour not in keeping with the black and white theme of the day.
Not much else happened in the opening half hour, but then, from a rapid break out of defence following a Fulham corner, Ebe Eze strode forward down the left and picked out the perfectly timed run of Edouard and the striker finished superbly – drilling a left shoot shot high past Bernd Leno.
Palace missed the injured Wilf Zaha but had spirit in the final stages to make up for the loss of some of their creativity.
Fulham struggled to get their act together at first, but drew level on the stroke of half time – Mitrovic blasting in from the spot, having enticed the award with a pass to Harry Wilson which panicked Tyrick Mitchell into a trip.
After Mitrovic had scored again on the hour, the Whites visibly grew in confidence and glorious curling effort from Willian from outside the box needed Sam Johnstone’s stretching fingertips to deny the Brazilian a classy goal.
The Eagles came close to an equaliser when Issa Diop lunged to intercept a cross and almost turned the ball into his own net but got back on level terms moments later.
Michael Olise’s free-kick ricocheted back off Antonee Robinson for Ward to prod home at the second attempt. Olise very nearly won it too, but a draw was about fair.
Whites: (4-2-3-1) Leno – Tete, Tosin, Diop, Robinson – Reed, Palhinha – Wilson (Decordova-Reid 80), Cairney (Solomon 80), Willian – Mitrovic. Subs not used: Rodak, Duffy, Kebano, Cedric Soares, Lukic, Vinicius, Harris
Eagles: (4-2-3-1) Johnstone – Ward, Andersen, Guehi, Mitchell – Doucoure, Hughes – Olise, Eze, Ajew – Edouard (Mateta 80). Subs not used: Sambi Lokonga, Clyne, McArthur, Richards, Ahamada, Adamarola, Whitworth, Riedewald