Transfer deadline day usually brings a wealth of emotions with it and, as Fulham fans, we’ve got used to debating the rights and wrongs of underwhelming windows on social media in the days afterwards. The doom and gloom had begun in the hours before Wednesday night’s deadline when it was assumed that Fulham would not be participating in the frenetic finale to the January window – something which was upended when the Whites moved swiftly to bring in Aleksandr Mitrovic on loan after a proposed move to Anderlecht collapsed during the afternoon.
The euphoria that greeted the Serbian’s switch to south west London was understandable given how under-equipped Fulham’s forward line appeared for the tasking of sustaining a promotion push before Christmas. Mitrovic’s calibre isn’t in doubt. The forward’s six goals were a key ingredient as Serbia qualified for their first World Cup in eight years – and he finished as one of the continent’s leading marksmen. That Mitrovic was considered surplus to requirements at St. James’ Park is baffling when Newcastle are far from firing on all cyclinders at the moment is entirely down to a sense of distrust on the part of Rafa Benitez.
Mitrovic was one of Partizan Belgrade’s brightest youth prospects when Slavisa Jokanovic was leading his old club to successive domestic doubles and the pair’s history played a key part in ensuring that the beanpole forward eventually made his way to Craven Cottage. Mitrovic has featured on Jokanovic’s wishlist since before Chris Martin made an ill-fated move last season and, in both stature and energy, fits the mould of the powerful, hold-up forward that the Fulham head coach has been eyeing to make his fluid 4-3-3 formation function.
Debuts sometimes prove to be misleading as an indication of how a player’s career shapes up, but there was plenty to appreciate about Mitrovic’s cameo off the bench against Nottingham Forest yesterday afternoon. He immediately enlivened Fulham in the final third, giving the visitors’ centre halves a thorough working over from the outside, and married several intelligent runs with a physical presence that Rui Fonte lacks. He stands at 6’2” – with plenty of power and pace that makes him ideally suited to the rough and tumble of the Championship – and quickly attracted attention in the box that created space for Fulham’s other attacking outlets.
Mitrovic was eager to get on the ball early, spreading the play to the flanks to make the most of Fulham’s strengths out wide in the form of Lucas Piazon, Ryan Sessegnon and Ryan Sessegnon, and got on the ball regularly in the final third – having twelve touches in and around the Forest penalty area. He had a couple of efforts on goal, with one majestic leap at a corner leading to a header being diverted away inside the six-yard box with Costil Pantilmon seemingly beaten, and won everything that was floated up to him in the air, which was no mean feat up against Michael Mancienne and Joe Worrall. It was a frenetic and intense debut – that played a part in changing the course of what had been an evenly-matched contest up until his introduction.
Jokanovic, like Jean Tigana, has been clear that he needed a number of strikers in order to challenge for the Championship. While there has been tangible evidence that both Aboubakar Kamara and Fonte are acclimatising to life in the English game, Mitrovic has established second tier credentials having helped the Magpies to the Championship title last term – and, as he said himself, possesses the characteristics of an old-fashioned English centre forward despite hailing from the bank of the Danube. As Barry Hayles suggested in the pages of the Football League Paper today, Mitrovic and Fulham could be a season-defining signing.