There was plenty of angst after the opening weekend about the future of Aleksandar Mitrovic. He looked sluggish, he wasn’t getting into goalscoring positions, maybe it was time to cash in – wrote some forum correspondents following the frustration of the draw with Middlesbrough. We counselled that it would be wise to keep the faith in our Serbian number nine and, lo and behold, he opened his account at Huddersfield.
The goal went viral within minutes on account of its ugly nature. It might be the scrappiest strike Mitrovic has ever scored, but he gave it the full celebration all the same. Once you take the comedy value of how it arrived out of the equation, it is worth considering just how important Mitrovic’s tireless running was to giving Fulham the lead. He chased the definition of a lost cause with commendable gusto, putting a clearly nervous Ryan Schofield under pressure, and reaped the remarkable rewards.
It was the sort of tireless running that Scott Parker reckoned Mitrovic couldn’t manage in the top flight. It might not be the first thing you associate with the hulking forward’s game but he’s clearly an unselfish player – and Fulham look far more formidable with him in the side. He bullied a hapless Huddersfield defence into submission and might have had a hat-trick before half time. Mitrovic’s reaction told you he felt he should have scored when he reached a Tosin header instead of slamming a shot against Schofield shortly after putting Fulham in front and he might have gone for goal instead of backheeling for Fabio Carvalho just before half time. He also had a trademark bullet header from Harry Wilson’s cross chalked off after a marginal offside call.
Seeing the Serbian with a smile on his face after the toughest year of his career was another filip on a quite incredible day. Mitrovic could conceivably have been playing his football elsewhere this weekend had Scott Parker remained in the Craven Cottage dugout – such was the deterioration in their relationship as Fulham dropped out of the Premier League with a whimper as our most effective forward was considered an afterthought. Keeping Mitrovic in SW6 was the most pressing matter in Marco Silva’s in-tray this summer and, on yesterday’s evidence, the new head coach has revitalised our talisman.
This was most clearly illustrated in the way that Mitrovic created Fulham’s fifth in the final minute of added time. He spun in possession just short of the halfway line and released Ivan Cavaleiro down the left flank with a glorious switch of play that Bobby Decordova-Reid, the visitors’ assister-in-chief yesterday, would have been proud of. The creative side of the Serbian’s game is sometimes overlooked given his astonishing goalscoring record but, as well as occupying centre backs throughout, Mitrovic is adept at fashioning opportunities for his team-mates. He looked hungry at Huddersfield – and that can only be a good thing as Fulham plot a path out of the Championship.
Silva’s reshaping of this Fulham side as an attacking force will only serve to benefit Mitrovic, who has been starved of the sort of service he thrives upon in the past eighteen months. The hope, of course, is that he can replicate the sort of blistering form that delivered 26 goals in a Parker side that was far more ponderous by comparison. The early signs after one of the all-time great Fulham away days look pretty promising. Mitrovic’s all-round game looks in very good nick. Championship centre backs will be terrified.