It was another bitterly disappointing west London derby for Fulham as Neal Maupay’s late, late header secured a point for Brentford at Craven Cottage and put a massive dent in Slavisa Jokanovic’s dreams of automatic promotion. The draw secured Wolves’ place in the Premier League next season and scuppered Fulham’s hopes of matching Cardiff’s win earlier in the day as they battle for the second guaranteed promotion spot.
The late equaliser certainly seemed like a sucker punch but Brentford, who regularly play some of their best football of the season at Craven Cottage, more than merited their point. The Bees were ambitious in possession, played progressive and tidy football – fashioning the best chances of a first half where the home side appeared strangely subdued. They fought a leveller in the fourth minute of injury time when neither Ryan Fredericks or Cyrus Christie managed to shut down the space Florian Jozefzoon found at the far post and Maupay powered a header past Marcus Bettinelli.
The Fulham goalkeeper had the busier afternoon of the two custodians by far. He did brilliantly to turn Jozefzoon’s sweet strike over the bar after both Romaine Sawyers and Henrik Dalsgaard had threatened as the visitors bossed the opening exchanges. Bettinelli then reacted quickly to keep out a Yoann Barbet header at his near post from a Brentford free kick but looked stranded when the Frenchman arrived unattended to meet a corner at the back post but badly misjudged the free header.
The home side looked a little as though they might have been suffering from stage fright and struggled to break free from both Brentford’s energetic high press and their disciplined defence. Jokanovic’s side’s patient probing with the ball went unrewarded for much of the first half, with only the prodigiously talented Ryan Sessegnon testing Dan Bentley in the Brentford goal – but the goalkeeper did superbly to snuff out the danger from close range. It took well until well into the second half for the home side to significantly threaten again, but this time the impressive Bentley was picking the ball out of the net.
The goal came out of absolutely nothing. Stefan Johansen had looked sprightly in the second half but there seemed to be very little on when he turned a ball infield towards Mitrovic. The Serbian striker had other ideas, however, spinning smartly to make half a yard and curling a majestic finish around Bentley off the inside of the post from long range. It was a sensational strike – and, it looked for much of the remaining twenty minutes as if it would secure all three points for the Whites.
Jokanovic brought on Christie as a late replacement for Neeskens Kebano, who himself had earlier come off the bench himself, in an attempt to shore up Fulham’s lead but the home side’s defensive line dropped deeper and deeper and they were eventually punished. Brentford kept on pouring forward and, deep in stoppage time, their sense of adventure was illustrated by the fact that Barbet was bombing on deep into Fulham territory. The French full back floated a deep ball that was headed back by Jozefzoon and Maupay gleefully steered the visitors level. It could be a crucial goal – it certainly felt like it.
FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; Fredericks, Targett, Odoi, Ream; McDonald, Johansen (Norwood 90), Cairney; Piazon (Kebano 54; Christie 87), R. Sessegnon, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Button, Kalas, Fonte, Kamara.
GOAL: Mitrovic (70).
BRENTFORD (4-5-1): Bentley; Dalsgaard, Barbet, Mepham, Bjelland (Egan 45); Yennaris (Maupay 69), Woods, Sawyers, Jozefzoon, Canos (Mokotjo 78); Watkins. Subs (not used): Daniels, Clarke, McEachran, Macleod.
BOOKED: Mepham, Maupay.
GOAL: Maupay (90+4).
REFEREE: Neil Swarbrick (Lancashire).