Walking away from Ashton Gate last night, the sense of disappointment at Fulham failing to build on a promising start was tangible. However, you have got to be satisfied with a point away at one of top six rivals at the this time of the season. Whilst Slavisa Jokanovic’s side couldn’t built on the perfect start given to them when Aleksandar Mitrovic opened his Fulham account, the fact that a Fulham side defended their long throws and set plays relatively well was a real plus point. As Cyrus Christie said after the game, there’s a chance this could be a valuable result come May.
Like Dan wrote this morning, Mitrovic showed just why he can be a real asset during the run-in. It was fantastic to see him score his first goal for the Whites and he proved a real handful for the Robins’ back four throughout his time on the field. His pure strength made him more than a match for Nathan Baker and Aden Flint, whilst there is increasing evidence of his footballing intelligence with each outing in a Fulham shirt. It is hard to believe the Serbian is still only 23 – and I’m absolutely astonished that Rafa Benitez considers Mitrovic surplus to requirements when his Newcastle side are hardly pulling up any trees in the Premier League.
Bristol City surprised me a little last night. When I saw Lee Johnson’s side earlier in the season, their football was a lot prettier and they certainly worked some lovely passing patterns in their win at Craven Cottage. Instead, City were a lot more physical – and I felt there were a number of rash challenges that went unpunished by a weak referee. As a tall side, City are extremely dangerous at set pieces but I thought Fulham weathered the aerial bombardment pretty well.
Jokanovic certainly raised a few eyebrows – including mine – by picking Cyrus Christie ahead of Ryan Fredericks for his Fulham debut, but the Irish international certainly justified his inclusion. There was a clear tactical element to this choice with Christie’s strength in the air seeing him dovetail effectively with Mitrovic at defensive set plays to nullify the threat of Flint. Aside from a couple of shaky defensive moments, Christie enjoyed a solid debut and I’m confident he will prove to a quality addition.
My man of the match, however, was the Fulham defender I’ve already dubbed ‘Mr. Reliable,’ Denis Odoi. The Belgian was another surprise selection – coming in for Tomas Kalas at centre back, but this was as assured a display as Odoi delivered against Reading and Leeds, with the added difficulty of dealing with Famara Diedhou in the air. Odoi often looks like coolness personified in the heart of the battle and his composure was definitely needed at times last night. The anticipation he showed to make two point-preserving clearances late in the second half proved crucial and you couldn’t fault his desire either. Having not started the last couple of fixtures, it was no mean feat for Odoi to fit so seamlessly back into the back again and he was outstanding throughout.
Whilst we’ve all been pondering Fulham’s big run of fixtures of late, last night’s opponents are heading to another of the promotion contenders on Sunday lunchtime. Bristol City might be looking over their shoulder, with seventh-placed Middlesbrough only two points behind, whilst the Bluebirds have stretched their advantage over Jokanovic’s side to eight points. Fulham might have made up eleven points on Neil Warnock’s men over the last ten fixtures, but we’ll all be watching events at the Cardiff City Stadium very closely on Sunday to see how the promotion picture is affected.
Even though Fulham couldn’t get a second goal to pinch all three points last night, I still feel there are reasons for real optimism when we welcome Wolves for one of the more mouthwatering fixtures in the Football League calendar on Saturday night. Jokanovic’s side remain unbeaten in 2018, having shown considerable fortitude at Ashton Gate to stretch their run to eleven games without defeat, and the Serbian certainly won’t sit back against the league leaders, who will without star midfielder Reuben Neuves due to suspension. Jokanovic has already recalled that Nuno Espírito Santo’s side were the only team to comprehensive outplay the Whites this season – and will be keen to put in a better performance than Fulham’s apologetic effort at Molineux in November.