For my money, Fulham’s 2-0 victory over Aston Villa on Saturday was one of the most complete performances of the season. Everyone expected Steve Bruce’s to try and contain and catch Fulham on the counter attack but, as it happened, Marcus Bettinelli didn’t have too many saves to make. Every man that wore the white shirt on Saturday can be extremely proud of the shift they put in – and the statement that their display sent out to the rest of the Championship.
The scoreline was certainly pleasing but it definitely didn’t flatter Slavisa Jokanovic’s side. If anything, as the head coach suggested after the final whistle, his team would entitled to feel a little disappointed they didn’t grab a third or fourth goal that would accurately reflected the way the Whites ran through the remnants of the visiting defence in the closing stages. Arguably the loss of Jack Grealish and Albert Adomah made a difference to the strength of the side Bruce was able to put out a side in the middle of a seven match unbeaten run were simply second best all afternoon.
I’ve written before about why the Fulham fans have really taken to Ryan Fredericks and the right back was superb both in the timing of his tackles and his contribution in the final third. Fredericks’ driving run down the right was the catalyst for the crucial breakthrough after half time, with a perfectly measured cross finding young Ryan Sessegnon in the sort of space he hadn’t been afforded in the first period. It surprises me that Jokanovic’s tweaking of his tactics at the interval hasn’t been remarked upon more. Both Ayite, who added the initial thrust to the move that led to Sessegnon’s pivotal strike, and Sessegnon drifted inside to create the space for Fulham’s marauding full backs – and the impact both Fredericks and Targett had with their forward runs in the second half was unmissable. With Villa overloaded in the centre of the park as well, it was only a matter of time before their ageing central defensive partnership caved in.
My highlight of the whole encounter had to be how much of a nuisance Aleksandar Mitrovic proved to be for the Villa defence. The Serbian striker might have been a surprise choice to lead the line from the start, but he bullied John Terry and James Chester throughout. His impressive link-up play illustrated how successfully he has settled in already. One of the problems with the January transfer window is how quickly new acquisitions are expected to get up and running, but Mitrovic already looks like he might be the final piece of Jokanovic’s promotion puzzle.
It should go without saying that these three points were simply that – a creditable victory against a promotion rival, but they will deliver another jolt of confidence as Fulham prepare for the next fixture in a pivotal run of matches. Playing to Jokanovic’s blueprint, the Whites shouldn’t fear anybody in the Championship as they showed on Saturday. Bristol City will be another big test tomorrow night, but the one thing you can count on with Jokanovic is that the Fulham head coach will ensure his players keep their feet firmly on the ground.