Fulham have long been applauded for their artistry with the ball, but Scott Parker’s side had to show guts and organisation tonight as they left Cardiff with a precious point having been reduced to ten men midway through the second half when Harry Arter was shown a second yellow card for simulation.
The Irish international was dismissed after tumbling to the floor following a challenge from Cardiff captain Sean Morrison. The assistant referee, closest to the incident by the corner flag, signalled for a corner to the home side, whilst the referee Tim Robinson initially appeared to give a free kick to Fulham, before changing his mind and fumbling in his pocket for his cards. Arter’s dismissal meant the Londoners had to show considerable fortitude to cling on for a draw, with Morrison missing the clearest opportunity – sending a late header wide after being left unattended at the back post.
The frenzied finale stood in stark contrast to the first period, where Fulham had dominated possession and spurned several chances to open the scoring. A perfectly weighted through ball from Tom Cairney sent Joe Bryan storming into the Cardiff box, but the Fulham full back was denied by a sprawling save from Alex Smithies at his near post. Three minutes later, Ivan Cavaleiro kept his feet in the area despite being hauled back by Morrison and crossed for Anthony Knockaert, who saw his first shot blocked before firing the rebound wide with his right foot.
There was a variation to Fulham’s subtle build up when Mitrovic nearly flicked a more direct ball from Alfie Mawson over Smithies but Cardiff goalkeeper was alert to the danger. Another flowing move saw Mitrovic produce a superb spin at the back post to work a shooting opportunity, but the Serbian striker then produced something of a tame effort when he pulled the trigger.
Cardiff struggled for a sight of goal for much of the half although a mistake from Mawson almost let the home side in, only for the former Swansea centre half to atone in the nick of time with a fine saving challenge as Robert Glatzel lined up a shot. After all of Fulham’s possession they fell behind on the stroke of half-time when Aiden Flint nicked the ball away from Cavaleiro as he tried to turn on the halfway line and freed Josh Murphy with a threaded ball down the left. Murphy sauntered into the box and, after Mawson failed to narrow the angle, drove a shot across Marcus Bettinelli and into the far corner. The Fulham goalkeeper got a hand to the effort – and probably should have kept it out.
Parker’s side might have been two down just moments later. This time, Bettinelli got his angles right at his near post and pushed away Glatzel’s close-range effort as he appeared certain to open his Cardiff account. The visitors showed great character to level matters almost instantaneously, with a flowing move culminating in a moment of Cairney magic to free Cavaleiro, whose first-time cross was clinically converted by Mitrovic for his fifth goal in as many games.
Fulham picked up where they had left off in the second half, although Neil Warnock’s side did at least manage to limit the number of clear-cut opportunities. Steven Sessegnon created one superbly for Mitrovic, who found half a yard of space but saw his shot deflected wide. The former Newcastle forward then turned creator for Arter, who screwed a drive wide from a promising position, before the former Cardiff loanee was shown two yellow cards in quick succession to put Fulham’s position under considerable question.
Referee Robertson, who had proven reluctant to deal with Cardiff’s physical approach all evening, somehow missed Lee Peltier wrestling Mitrovic to floor at the far post as Fulham mounted a rare attack – and the Whites bravely resisted a late Cardiff onslaught. Glatzel sent a free header a couple of yards wide, before Morrison missed the target at the back stick as he augmented the hosts’ attack in search of a winner.
Parker remonstrated with the officials after the final whistle, but the Fulham boss will have been pleased with side’s fight to claim a point that looked unlikely after Arter’s ill-judged indiscretion.
CARDIFF CITY (4-2-3-1): Smithies; Peltier, Bennett, Morrison, Flint; Bacuna, Ralls; Whyte (Hoillett 64), Murphy (Mendez-Laing 81), Tomlin (Paterson 64); Glatzel. Subs (not used): Day, Vaulkes, Nelson.
GOAL: Murphy (42).
FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; S. Sessegnon, Bryan, Mawson, Ream; Reed, Arter, Cairney (Le Marchand 89); Knockaert (Johansen 71), Cavaleiro (Kamara 81), Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rodak, Christie, McDonald, Onomah.
BOOKED: Arter, Bettinelli, Mawson, Cairney.
SENT OFF: Arter (68).
GOAL: Mitrovic (45).
REFEREE: Tim Robinson (West Sussex).