Aleksandar Mitrovic scored on his get back for Fulham as they climbed up to third in the Championship with a 2-0 win over Cardiff.
Fulham kept their slim hopes of automatic promotion alive as Mitrovic’s penalty and Josh Onomah’s effort in each half secured their victory at Craven Cottage on Friday night, moving them to within four points of West Brom in 2nd, and five behind Leeds – with those two sides playing later within the weekend.
For Cardiff, though, it absolutely was a huge blow to their play-off hopes. They remain sixth, but merely a point free from Swansea and three before Preston and Derby. All three could overtake yet overtake them by the finish of this round of games.
Mitrovic returns to steer Fulham to victory
Fulham had won all three games by which Mitrovic was suspended for his elbow on Ben White throughout their defeat at Leeds, but there was undoubtedly whatsoever that Scott Parker would throw him back in – even handing him the armband.
And on 35 minutes he repaid that faith, winning a penalty off Dion Sanderson as that he was pulled down in the box, before sending the ball into the top corner from 12 yards – his 24th of the season to place him one ahead of Ollie Watkins in the race for the Golden Boot.
While Alex Smithies had no chance with the penalty, he did make a brilliant save on 42 minutes to deny Fulham a second. Bobby Decordova-Reid found the ball 25 yards out and sent in a peach of a strike that appeared destined for the top corner, only for Smithies to fling himself to his left to tip it onto the bar.
On the stroke of half-time Decordova-Reid should have put Fulham two ahead, though, but sent a header wide from point-blank range after a brilliant cross from Anthony Knockaert right into one’s heart of the six-yard box.
Cardiff, who themselves had hit the bar shortly after falling behind from the Joe Ralls effort, pushed again for an equaliser after the break, but it was Fulham who struck alongside double their lead on 66 minutes.
It was smart work from Onomah as he played a one-two with substitute Stefan Johansen, receiving the ball from the smart pass in the box, before taking a touch and driving one low into the bottom corner. After that, there is no way right back for Cardiff.
Talking points: Should there have been a Hector red card and another Fulham penalty?
There could have been questions from Cardiff as to how Fulham defender Michael Hector avoided a red card after a coming together with Callum Paterson after 58 minutes, but referee Gavin Ward elected simply to show him the yellow card. A dismissal may have changed the game at the point with just a goal in it.
Had Fulham not gone on to win the game, however, then they may have felt aggrieved themselves by what they felt must have been a specific penalty after 63 minutes – just three minutes before their 2nd goal.
It appeared that Curtis Nelson had clearly handballed a Joe Bryan cross, before Will Vaulks tripped Mitrovic as he tried to follow up, but on both occasions the referee waved their protests away as Decordova-Reid then fired over the bar.
Man of the Match – Harrison Reed
For the first around 30 minutes when Fulham weren’t at the races, Reed kept his side in some sort of control of Cardiff because the away side dominated. Without him they might well have fallen behind when they were under pressure. It was an essential, if understated performance from the midfielder.
What the manager’s said…
Fulham’s Scott Parker: “Three points is key now in the summer season, and a third clean sheet on the bounce. When you play against a team like Cardiff you’re going to get put under extreme pressure, and at times the ball gets put in the best areas also it becomes a little bit of an onslaught.
“You have to defend your box very well and I thought we defended set plays and we limited them to a lot of long balls and second balls, which we dealt with very well. I would have like to have been better on the ball, but the message again was a clean sheet and job done.”
Cardiff’s Neil Harris: “It was disappointing to reduce the game as there was not a lot inside. First half I thought Fulham shaded it, but second half we had a solid performance. But it waas fine lines.
“I was disappointed to concede the penalty. Experience outweighed a bit of naivety at the rear post, but I thought it was low priced. But then we might have away with one in the second half.
“We played with a lot of bravery in the second half, but we didn’t do enough in the penalty area, and that’s where games are won and lost. Fulham were better in both areas.”
Both sides are back in action on Tuesday. Fulham check out West Brom for a 5pm kick-off that’s go on Sky Sports Football, while Cardiff host Derby for a 7.45pm kick-off.