Aleksandar Mitrovic’s predatory finish in injury-time secured a massive three points for Fulham over relegation rivals Huddersfield Town and spared the blushes of Aboubakar Kamara, who had refused to hand over a spot-kick to the Serbian number nine only minutes earlier.
Claudio Ranieri admitted that ‘he wanted to kill’ Kamara after the French forward failed to beat Jonas Lossl with a tame penalty that saw him defy team orders – and the protestations of half of his team-mates – to take. The French forward felt he had won the spot-kick, charitably awarded after a handball by Chris Lowe, and had earned the right to convert it after scoring from twelve yards at Old Trafford this month. Lossl’s save felt like the game’s decisive moment, but that actually arrived a minute into stoppage time.
Tom Cairney, recalled after being named amongst the substitutes for the Boxing Day draw with Wolves, had the presence of mind to find Ryan Sessegnon with a forward pass after Erik Durm’s cross reached him on the edge of his own box. The teenage winger, introduced as a late substitute, crossed the halfway line and dribbled deep into Huddersfield territory, committing two defenders before threading a perfect ball through for Mitrovic, who slipped a first-time shot between Lossl’s legs and into the corner.
Mitrovic revealed afterwards that, in sharp contrast to his devastation after missing a host of chances on Boxing Day, he wanted to cry tears of joy following his late winner. The delirious scenes in front of the Hammersmith End spoke volumes about the importance of this victory that lifts Fulham up to eighteenth in the table – and will land a significant physiological blow on one of their fiercest relegation rivals. Huddersfield boss David Wagner appeared shell-shocked afterwards, admitting that the late defeat was tough to take.
The late drama was in stark contrast to the tedium of a first half that had little to recommend it. Huddersfield, who have scored just twelve league games all season, opted to pack the midfield and try and stifle Fulham’s passing game – whilst the home side were happy to watch the Terriers pass the ball in front of them for most of the first period. Philip Billing stung Sergio Rico’s palms with a rasping drive from distance eight minutes in, but clear cut chances were few and far between. Steve Mounie, once rumoured to be a Fulham target, failed to really extend the Spanish goalkeeper further with two headed opportunities and Fulham’s opportunities were limited to sporadic counter attacks.
The first fell the way of Cyrus Christie, who found himself in uncharted territory at the far post – latching onto a deep cross from Luciano Vietto, but the Irish wing-back could only direct his header away from goal. Mitrovic should have done better than send two headers over the bar from a couple of inswinging corners from Jean-Michael Seri, who was fortunate to escape harsher punishment than a yellow card after scything down Florent Hadergjonaj. Mitrovic nearly turned provider when sending Cairney clear on goal, but a combination of Mattias Jorgensen and Lossl snuffed out the danger.
Ranieri rung the changes at half-time, introducing Kamara and Maxime Le Marchand, and the home side immediately stepped up the intensity of their play. They almost found a breakthrough when Christie floated in a free-kick only for Calum Chambers to head towards a team-mate instead of directly at goal from a promising position. Just before the hour, Mitrovic and Vietto created a glorious chance for Joe Bryan who went for placement rather than power and allowed Lossl to make a simple save at his near post.
The Danish goalkeeper then made a magnificent reaction save four minutes later when he clawed Mitrovic’s header away from the near post after an inviting Bryan cross had opened up the Huddersfield defence. Mitrovic and Kamara were striking up a useful understanding in the forward areas and the unpredictable French forward tested Lossl again with an instinctive volley after Mitrovic had flicked a forward ball into his path.
Then came the drama of the penalty, awarded after Kamara’s flick had struck the arm of the unfortunate Lowe, who had little time to adjust his body position. After all the acrimony over who would take the spot-kick, Kamara’s apologetic penalty seemed inevitable. Huddersfield almost rubbed salt into the wound when Billing’s low drive from the edge of the box took a deflection and whistled wide. Even after Mitrovic’s stoppage-time strike, a backpeddling Rico still had to touch a looping header from Christopher Schlinder over the bar – and the frenzied celebrations at the final whistle showed just how important Fulham’s third win of the season could be.
FULHAM (3-4-3): Rico; Odoi, Mawson (Le Marchand 45), Ream; Christie, Bryan, Chambers, Seri (Kamara 45); Cairney, Vietto (R. Sessegnon 77), Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Cisse, Schurrle, Ayite.
BOOKED: Seri, Odoi, Christie.
GOAL: Mitrovic (90+1).
HUDDERSFIELD TOWN (3-5-1-1): Lössl; Jorgensen, Schindler, Kongolo; Durm, Hadergjonaj, Hogg, Billing, Löwe; Pritchard (Kachunga 65); Mounie (Depoitre 65). Subs (not used): Hamer, Stankovic, Bacuna, Diakhaby, Mbenza.
REFEREE: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire).