Fulham’s pre-season schedule ended with a curious game in glorious sunshine against a skillful Celta Vigo side that could be read in contrasting ways. On the positive side, Slavisa Jokanovic’s side looked threatening going forward, composed in possession and their manipulation of the football is enhanced by this summer’s acquisitions. But the Serbian would have been perturbed at just how easy his team were to carve open and frustrated by the calamitous marking at set plays that twice allowed the Spaniards back into a pulsating game.
In truth, Celta could have wrapped up an impressive victory had their had a finisher of any note. In a match notable for its intensity and tempo on an oppressively hot afternoon on the banks of the Thames, both sides played attacking and progressive football from the outset. Fulham established an early lead through a fine Aleksandar Mitrovic strike and then re-established their advantage courtesy of an excellent finish from Aboubakar Kamara, but some sloppy defending allowed Celta Vigo back into the contest.
The Spanish side stroked the ball around magnificently and the movement of their front three was mesmerising at times, with the fluidity causing constant problems for Tim Ream and Maxime Le Marchand at the heart of the Fulham defence. The understanding between the highly-rated Pione Sisto, Dennis Eckert and former Liverpool forward Iago Aspas proved strong – and had the three of them been more clinical in their finishing then the damage to Fulham’s confidence ahead of their Premier League opener against Crystal Palace next week would have been far more consequential.
The hosts took the lead through a beautifully worked goal with Tim Ream, Andre Schurrle and Mitrovic all involved. The Serbian striker, making his first start at the Cottage since joining from Newcastle on a permanent basis last week, produced a finish of exquisite quality after a superb stepover and turn took him away from his marker – bending a low shot into the bottom right corner from the edge of the box.
Fulham’s fragility at the back has been a cause for concern throughout a demanding pre-season schedule and Celta took less than three minutes to strike back. A poor clearance from Fabri surrendered possession in a dangerous area and Hugo Mallo’s floated cross was headed home brilliantly by Eckret. The visitors might have gone in front on ten minutes when Aspas played in Sisto, but Fabri stood up well to save.
Just as Celta were growing into the game, Fulham struck again following another sweeping move from left to right. Mitrovic did well to link play with Tom Cairney, turned again and located the onrushing Kamara who sprinted into the inside right position and fired swiftly into the far corner from the edge of the box. It was a composed finish of real quality from the French forward, who has improved immeasurably under Jokanovic’s tutelage and must stand an excellent chance of retaining his starting place next week.
Mitrovic almost latched onto an outstanding through ball from Cairney to surge through on goal, but – in an end-to-end passage of play – Celta came close to snatching a second equaliser. Mallo rattled the crossbar with a header than bounced down onto the goalline after a deep cross from Sisto. The hosts’ reprieve didn’t last until half-time after a clumsy Kamara foul gifted the Spaniards a free-kick right on the edge of the box and Cabral punished some non-existent marking to power a free header past Fabri far too easily.
The La Liga side had by far the better of the second period. Eckret’s eye-catching dexterity allowed him to link up with Sisto well inside the Fulham box, but the Danish winger’s wild shot landed in the Putney End. Fulham replied in kind, with Mitrovic’s strength and determination seeing him hold off Facundo Roncaglia, turn and guide a shot wide of the far post from inside the six-yard box. It was the sort of chance the powerful forward will need to take on a regular basis in the top flight this term.
The Whites were then indebted to Fabri who made a fine save to deny Claudio Beauvue, who had sprinted clear of the remnants of the Fulham defence to threaten a late winner. The final few minutes were played out with all the blood and thunder of a competitive fixture. Jokanovic’s charges went searching for a winner but the closest they came was an optimistic shot from Kevin McDonald that flew well over the bar after a concerted spell of Fulham possession.
FULHAM (4-3-3): Fabri; Christie (Fossey 79), R. Sessegnon, Le Marchand, Ream; McDonald, Seri, Cairney (Johansen 60); Kamara, Schurrle (Sessegnon 68′), Mitrovic (Kebano 79′). Subs (not used): L. Ashby-Hammond, Odoi, Cisse, Fonte.
GOALS: Mitrovic (3), Kamara (17).
CELTA VIGO (3-4-3): Alvarez; Roncaglia (Roz 90), Araujo (Costas 62), Cabral (Mor 45); Mallo (Vasquez 80), Lobotka, Beltran (Jozabed 62), Junca (Mazan 80); Aspas (Hjulsager 62), Eckret (Beauvue 62), Sisto (Mendez 62). Subs (not used): Garcia, Fernandez, Villar.
GOALS: Eckret (7), Cabral (42)