Another double from Aleksandar Mitrovic sealed a smash and grab raid for Fulham at their promotion rivals Swansea City this evening.
The Londoners were indebted to the Serbian striker’s ruthless finishing as they built a two-goal cushion at half-time despite being largely outplayed by Steve Cooper’s side in south Wales. Marek Rodak showed exactly why Scott Parker has recently installed him as Fulham’s number one with a number of crucial saves as the Swans both dominated possession and carved out several promising opportunities.
The home side were in enterprising mood from the off but couldn’t find a way past the Slovakian international goalkeeper. Rodak produced an outstanding reaction save to deny Sam Sturridge when he looked certain to score at the back post after a fine cross from Andre Ayew and then recovered swiftly to turn aside a low drive from Kyle Naughton in the next phase of play. Byers couldn’t punish a rare mistake from Rodak when the Fulham keeper’s lax clearance fell to Matt Grimes, with the impressive midfielder striking the outside of the post from 20 yards out.
Fulham looked fragile at the back but weathered the early storm and hit the front with their first serious foray forward. A flowing team move worked space for Joe Bryan down the left and when Aboubakar Kamara’s venomous volley came back off the crossbar, Mitrovic reacted quickest to head home the rebound inside the six-yard box. The goal visibly lifted the visitors, who began to get their crisp passing going, and Fulham found a sucker punch just before the break.
Parker’s side pressed Swansea high up the pitch, with Josh Onomah capitalising on a poor pass from Kristoffer Peterson to play Ivan Cavaleiro in down the inside right channel. There was a little bit of fortune as Cavaleiro’s cross found its way to Mitrovic via an Onomah airshot, but the Serbian striker needed no encouragement to fire his fifteenth goal of the season high into the top corner.
Swansea could justifiably feel aggrieved at being two goals down on the balance of play and they reemerged for the second half seeking an immediate riposte. A couple of teasing balls from Peterson wouldn’t drop for the likes of Ayew or Surridge in the box and the hosts couldn’t switch off at the other end as Fulham’s threat on the counter-attack nearly delivered a third when Bryan’s low cross only just eluded a sliding Mitrovic at the far post.
Freddie Woodman then produced a smart diving save to keep the hosts in the contest after Cavaleiro had turned teenage defender Ben Wilmot inside out. Swansea continued to push for a route back into the contest with Byers bringing the very best out of Rodak after being teed up by Ayew on the edge of the Fulham area. Byers’ clever curler looked destined for the bottom corner, but Rodak turned it aside.
Swansea did establish a lifeline seven minutes later when they got their reward for not letting their heads drop. Substitute Barrie McKay drilled a free-kick into the wall, but floated a far more dangerous delivery in from the rebound and Byers drifted behind Alfie Mawson to head home despite Rodak’s desperate attempts to keep it out.
Belief suddenly surged through the Liberty Stadium and Swansea began to pen Fulham, who switched to a back three in a bid to cling onto their advnatage, back. Denis Odoi bravely blocked a Jay Fulton shot at source on his hundredth start for the club, whilst a sea of bodies prevented Surridge from converting Mike van der Horn’s cross. There appeared to be a great opening at the end of five minutes of added time when a glorious pass from Tom Carroll sent McKay clear down the left, but the resultant cross was woefully overhit.
Fulham’s fortitude helped their secure a fourth consecutive win for the first time since April 2018 and allowed Parker’s side to close the gap to second-placed Leeds to just two points. After a slow start, the Whites are certainly in the Championship promotion race.
SWANSEA CITY (4-2-3-1): Woodman; Roberts, Naughton, van der Horn, Wilmot; Fulton (Carroll 74), Grimes; A. Ayew, Peterson (McKay 57), Byers; Surridge (Baston 84). Subs (not used): Nordfeldt, Bidwell, Cabango. Celina.
GOAL: Byers (65).
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Odoi, Bryan, Mawson, Ream; Johansen, Cairney; Onomah (Christie 79), Kamara (McDonald 74), Cavaleiro (Knockaert 85); Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, O’Riley, Kebano, de la Torre.
GOAL: Mitrovic (22, 42).
REFEREE: Simon Hooper (Wiltshire).