Aleksandar Mitrovic brought up a half century of goals for Fulham as he headed Scott Parker’s side to a narrow victory over League One Ipswich Town and into the third round of the Carabou Cup at Portman Road. The Serbian striker, who was only a substitute as the Whites slumped to a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Arsenal on the opening day of the Premier League season, buried a trademark bullet header from a fine cross by new signing Kenny Tete as the visitors’ top flight class proved just enough.
Parker handed debuts to four of his summer signings. Tete was a lively presence down the right flank, buzzing forward with intent, whilst Antonee Robinson offered plenty of attacking intent from left back in a display full of energy and promise. Mario Lemina enjoyed a creditable first outing, which lasted just over an hour, whilst goalkeeper Alphonse Areola was largely until the closing seconds when Gwion Edwards escaped the attentions of Joe Bryan and fired a hopeful effort goalwards.
For the most part, Fulham’s greater technical ability and control of possession had Paul Lambert’s side chasing shadows. They could have grabbed the lead inside the first minute when Neeskens Kebano robbed Janoi Donacien in the right back position and pulled back an inviting low cross only for Anthony Knockaert to sky his finish under pressure from Myles Kenlock. The French winger then found Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa on the edge of the box with a cleverly-disguised corner – the Cameroonian midfielder’s venomous volley flashed just wide.
Fulham’s football had the greater subtlety and they continued to pose a threat to the Ipswich defence. Knockaert fired over at the end of an intricate move, but the visitors took the lead shortly afterwards with a flowing break from the back. Maxime Le Marchand started it all with a lovely switch of play out to Tete on the right. The Dutch international breezed down the line and sent over a majestic cross for Mitrovic, who marked his birthday, with a thumping header. Ipswich might have dealt with the danger more convincingly – but this is precisely the sort of service upon which the Serbian talisman will thrive.
The Whites could have had a second just before half-time. Mitrovic made a nuisance of himself, forcing an error from Aristote Nsiala, and twisted his way towards goal but David Cornell did well to foil the finish at his near post. Town battled bravely for much of the first half, but Emyr Huwys’ wayward strike as space opened up for him right at the end of the first half was the closest they came to seriously testing Areola in the Fulham goal.
The second half continued in a much similar vein. Fulham probed patiently, happy to play pretty football in front of a well-organised Ipswich defence. Tete and Robinson appeared their most likely source of a second goal and it was no surprise when the former hung up another inviting cross from the right. Mitrovic rose unmarked at the far post but Cornell clawed his header off the goal-line and then denied Bobby Decordova-Reid, who really should have buried the rebound.
Knockaert fired a speculative effort narrowly wide from fully thirty yards before Tom Cairney stung Cornell’s palms with a dipping drive from distance shortly after replacing Lemina. Parker’s side kept pushing for a second goal that would have put the tie to bed, with Kebano coming close to adding another audacious free-kick to his collection, and Decordova-Reid shooting straight at Cornell.
Ipswich never gave up, but their forwards had a largely frustrating evening, starved of service. Edwards had their only presentable chance, that he fashioned for himself after tricking his way past Denis Odoi, but Areola made his solitary save of the evening look relatively routine. Fulham’s prize for surviving this sizeable banana skin is a home tie against Sheffield Wednesday next week.
IPSWICH TOWN (4-3-3): Cornell; Donacien, Kenlock, Nsiala, Wilson; Nolan (Judge 69), Dozzell (Downes 58), Huws; Dobra, Hawkins (Norwood 68), Edwards. Subs (not used): Holy, Chambers, Bishop, Sears.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Areola; Tete (Bryan 81), Robinson, Odoi, Le Marchand; Anguissa (Reed 69), Lemina (Cairney 63); Knockaert, Kebano, Decordova-Reid; Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Fabri, Hector, Bryan, Francois, Cavaleiro.
GOAL: Mitrovic (38).
REFEREE: Dean Whitestone (Northamptonshire).