There’s little doubt that Aleksandar Mitrovic is irreplaceable. Both in terms of his goals and hold up play, the Serbian striker is invaluable to way that both his club and country play, which makes his moment of madness early on at Elland Road all the more galling. We’ve all heard of ‘leaving one on’ the opposition centre back, but that sort of uncontrolled aggression seemed to have been something that Mitrovic had left behind him in the north east, whatever Steve McClaren might think.
This afternoon’s confirmation that Mitrovic will be missing for Fulham’s next three matches was something of a foregone conclusion. Parker would have seen his talisman as one of the senior players who could lead by example and prevent Fulham’s season from completely subsiding after those two damaging defeats by Brentford and Leeds. The Fulham manager now has a tricky choice to make in the absence of Mitrovic and Aboubakar Kamara, who will also miss the trip to Loftus Road tomorrow night. Just who can lead the line and carry a serious goal threat that Fulham have lacked lately even with Mitrovic in the team?
Stansfield might seem like an emotive choice to lead the line at Loftus Road, but the teenager has had a dream start to life at Craven Cottage. He’s scored an incredible 22 goals in 14 Under 18 Premier League games and grabbed a goal on his under-23 debut for good measure as well. The teenager has already stepped up to senior level effectively, having produced an eye-catching cameo in the FA Cup as a late substitute against Aston Villa. Fulham’s prospects might even have been better served by him having more than a couple of minutes on the pitch as the Whites chased a late goal at the Valley and, while he hasn’t seen senior action since January, Stansfield has been training with the first team squad. He’s highly rated at Motspur Park, has an eye for a pass as well as the goal, and could surprise QPR. He certainly wouldn’t be be overawed by the opportunity.
On paper, Bobby Decordova-Reid looks like the most likely candidate to play up front on Tuesday evening. He might be more used to playing behind Mitrovic or more recently out on the wing for Fulham this season, but he’s no stranger to the leading role. He played up front successfully in his final season for Bristol City, scoring eighteen league goals, and also in the Premier League for Cardiff. Decordova-Reid has chipped in with five goals after a slow start at Craven Cottage, but there are nagging doubts about his finishing after he missed huge chances against both Lots of doubts have arisen about his finishing, squandering huge chances against both Brentford and Leeds. Could be as clinical as Mitrovic? There’s also another factor to consider. Parker would need to change Fulham’s style of play to accommodate Decordova-Reid as a forward. As more of a false nine or a deep-lying forward, he would more comfortable making runs in behind the back four – which might prove profitable given the range of passing in Fulham’s midfield.
Other options: Ivan Cavaleiro or Anthony Knockaert
A more fluid front three could see either Knockaert or Cavaleiro, who have largely disappointed on the wings this season, start through the middle with the proviso that the forward line would be much more interchangeable than previously.
With a combined nine goals between them, neither Cavaleiro or Knockaert have hit the heights of their previous seasons in the Championship, and they will need to weigh in with big displays now that Fulham’s participation in the play-offs appears under threat. It goes without saying that Fulham will struggle without Mitrovic, but there is no room for error after those two defeats by Brentford and Leeds. Maximum points against QPR and Birmingham are a must – and securing them without Mitrovic will send a message to the rest of the division that Fulham are far from a one-man team. Parker will want a reaction from his side tomorrow night and where better to put things right than in a local derby.
My preferred team line up v QPR; Rodak, Christie, Hector, Ream, Odoi, Reed, Cairney, Onomah, Knockaert, Decordova-Reid, Cavaleiro
@ffcSeb’s score prediction; QPR 0-1 Fulham FC