For so long, it seemed as though Fulham would prove unable to capitalise on Cardiff City’s untimely slip up last night. Sheffield Wednesday defended with determination and diligence but ultimately couldn’t prevent Aleksandar Mitrovic from grabbing his ninth goal in as many games to settle a nervy contest at Hillsborough. The Serbian’s strike extended Fulham’s unbelievable unbeaten run to nineteen games and, crucially, cut the gap to second place to just two points.
Mitrovic’s influence since moving to Craven Cottage on loan from Newcastle in January has been significant. Previously, Fulham played plenty of pretty football but lacked potency in the opposition’s penalty area – now they have a deadly poacher who could fire them back to the top flight. He clinically converted Ryan Sessegnon’s clever cross to break Wednesday’s brave resistance twelve minutes from time.
Owls’ boss Jos Luhukay was honest to admit afterwards that Fulham’s flowing football could have been rewarded with three or four goals. Slavisa Jokanovic’s side were ambitious from the outset and could have taken the lead inside twelve minutes but Sheyi Ojo strayed offside before turning in Kevin McDonald’s cross. It was as good as a frustrating afternoon got for the Liverpool loanee.
The visitors then produced a sublime bit of one-touch passing that culminated with Sessegnon and Mitrovic combining on the edge of the box. The teenager instinctively headed the Serbian’s lay-off towards goal but his looping header rattled the crossbar.
Wednesday’s attempts at striking up a rhythm in response were undermined by Barry Bannan limping off injured, but an increasingly animated Jokanovic would have been frustrated that McDonald and Ojo shot straight at Joe Wildsmith from promising positions.
The home side looked most threatening from set pieces, where defender Daniel Pudil planted a free header over, although a fierce drive from Adam Reach was bravely blocked at source by the outstanding Tim Ream. Fulham could have taken the lead in first half stoppage time but Wildsmith superbly clawed away Mitrovic’s bullet header from a Ryan Fredericks cross.
Wednesday emerged after the interval with more adventure and full back Jack Hunt pushed Fulham back with an enterprising run. His low cross flashed right across the face of goal and then Reach narrowly failed to get a telling touch on Jacob Butterfield’s dangerous ball in.
Mitrovic, who was becoming more of a threat after looking isolated at times before the break, headed over from a corner as Fulham cranked up the pressure. The Whites should have gone ahead shortly afterwards but McDonald lashed wastefully wide after being teed up by Tom Cairney.
The visitors were laying siege to the Wednesday goal by now. Wildsmith did superbly to thwart Stefan Johansen at his near post and the lively Neeskens Kebano could have scored twice within ten minutes of replacing Floyd Ayite, whose own substitute appearance was cruelly curtailed by injury.
Fulham finally broke the deadlock with twelve minutes left. Sessegnon surged into space behind the Wednesday defence down the left and calmly sent a low cross along the six-yard line, which Mitrovic effortlessly into the roof of the net.
Wednesday kept pressing for an equaliser, but the closest they came was when a long range effort from Marco Mathias flew wide of Marcus Bettinelli’s goal.
SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY (3-5-2): Wildsmith; Pudil, Lees, Venancio; Hunt, G. Boyd (Mathias 86), Pelupessy, Bannan (Butterfield 31), Reach; Nuhiu, Joao (Forestieri 76). Subs (not used): Jones, Dawson, Thorniley, Rhodes.
BOOKED: Pudil, Butterfield.
FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; Fredericks, Targett, Odoi, Ream; McDonald, Johansen, Cairney; Ojo (Ayite 62, Kebano 72), R. Sessegnon, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Button, Kalas, Christie, Norwood, Kamara.
GOAL: Mitrovic (78)
REFEREE: Steve Martin (Staffordshire).