Aleksandar Mitrovic might have had a hat-trick in stoppage time as Fulham stumbled at Ashton Gate on Saturday, but any doubts about the Serbian striker’s predatory instincts were dismissed within 45 minutes as a sublime display of finishing steered Marco Silva’s side past Swansea and back to winning ways tonight. Mitrovic delivered the ruthlessness that the Whites have lacked in recent outings, with his first half hat-trick lifting the Londoners up to third in the Championship table.
Fulham’s number nine is already up to ten goals for the season having signed a new five-year contract at Craven Cottage last month. He is at the heart of a reshaped and adventurous side under Silva in stark contrast to the peripheral role he played as Scott Parker’s side went down with a whimper last year. He opened his account inside twelve minutes and, though there was more than a hint of offside as he latched onto a forward header from Tim Ream, Mitrovic still had plenty to do. He turned Kyle Naughton effortlessly and picked his spot before rolling a low finish past Ben Hamer.
Silva’s alterations from the deflating draw in Bristol all offered immediate plus points. Harrison Reed added energy to the heart of the midfield, Neeskens Kebano was a livewire down the left, whilst Joe Bryan – recalled to the starting line up after Antonee Robinson picked up a knee problem in training yesterday – offered the sort of quality crossing that Mitrovic thrives open. Bryan’s first delivery saw the former Newcastle forward head straight at Hamer and, after Bobby Decordova-Reid lashed over from twelve yards, the full back and Kebano combined to set up Fulham’s second. An eye-catching move saw the Congolese winger set free along the left flank and Mitrovic sent a low cross into the far corner – although he was far from the cleanest finish of his career.
Any suggestion that the home side were on easy street was soon shredded when Swansea scored from their first real opening of the evening. Joel Piroe did superbly to pirouette past three white shirts and thread the perfect ball between Tim Ream and Denis Odoi for Jamie Paterson, who kept his cool as Paulo Gazzaniga raced off his line, tiptoeing past the keeper and Odoi, who clattered into the Argentine into the box, and measuring a fine finish inside the far post. The goal galvanised Russell Martin’s side, who played patient and pretty football throughout, but their hopes of mounting a comeback suffered a serious blow on the stroke of half time.
Fulham’s third goal was a sublime move began at the back with Gazzaniga and Ream playing through Swansea’s high press and Decordova-Reid releasing Denis Odoi into acres of space down the right flank. The Belgian whipped a low ball towards the near post, where Mitrovic rifled a first time finish between a helpless Hamer and his near post. He careered off to celebrate a second Fulham hat-trick, which he had completed just as Swansea were beginning to look threatening.
To the Welsh outfit’s immense credit, they continued to threaten after the interval. Ethan Laird engineered a glorious chance for Flynn Downes within four minutes of the restart but the former Ipswich midfielder blazed badly over from twelve yards. The on-loan Manchester United full back typified Swansea’s sense of adventure by taking on a left footed drive when he found himself in space 23 yards out – and his effort rattled the angle of post and bar having looped off Harrison Reed.
Bryan had to admit defeat just ten minutes into the second half after failing to run off a back problem picked up after a heavy challenge in the first period. Alfie Mawson’s introduction against his former club necessitated a switch to a back three, which helped to negate the forward thrust provided by Swansea’s enterprising wing backs, and Silva opted to withdraw both Wilson and Mitrovic with Saturday’s trip to Coventry in mind. The hosts were never as threatening as in a rampant first period, but Hamer did produce a brilliant reaction save to deny Odoi when the Belgian burst into the area to fire Decordova-Reid’s cross goalwards and substitute Rodrigo Muniz almost caught the goalkeeper off his line from inside his own half.
Swansea kept probing until the end, but apart from a scare when Gazzaniga came for and got nowhere near a corner, couldn’t unlock the home defence to set up a grandstand finish. Silva, so dismayed by Fulham’s wastefulness in Bristol, will be heartened by how ruthless the Whites were in the final third this evening. Mitrovic in this mood will be a menace for any Championship defence – and Fulham’s focus will now switch to a lunchtime date with division’s early surprise package on Saturday.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Gazzaniga; Odoi, Bryan (Mawson 56), Adarabioyo, Ream; Seri, Reed; Wilson (Cavaleiro 71), Kebano, Decordova-Reid; Mitrovic (Muniz 69). Subs (not used): Rodak, Hector, Onomah, Quina.
GOALS: Mitrovic (12, 32, 45).
SWANSEA (3-4-2-1): Hamer; Cabango, Naughton, Manning; Laird, Bidwell (Latibeaudiere 74), Downes (Cullen 68), Grimes; Ntcham (Smith 32), Paterson; Piroe. Subs (not used): Walsh, Fulton, Cooper.
GOAL: Paterson (38).
REFEREE: Josh Smith (Bedfordshire).
That first half was so so good to watch. Accelerated breaks combined with excellent passing and final balls-quite breathtaking. If Decodova Reid’s opportunity had been taken, we would have had the game well out of their reach.
I would say that that first half was as good as we have played all season and Mitro was on fire.
Elsewhere, Harrison Reid fully justified his team selection and Seri was commanding and back to his form of a few weeks ago.
On the left, Kebano was such a handful, ably supported by Joe Bryan -good to see him back and such a shame that he got injured.
Second half-I guess it would have been too much to expect more of the same, especially with the reshuffle caused by Bryan’s injury but standards did start to drop even before Bryan’s departure and we allowed Swansea to come back into it.
Swansea played good possession football but lacked a cutting edge, thankfully, and we got the 3 points that were paramount.
Hated to see Gazzaniga make a mess of the only cross he had to deal with in the entire game. It resurrects those doubts about his ability to cope when some team, somewhere, decides to bombard us aerially. He urgently needs to work on this aspect of his game IMO.
Dennis Odoi had a strong game again and it was good to hear that Kenny Tete may be back after the International break.
Coventry got a battering at Luton and, hopefully, will have been softened up for Saturday when a win could see us go into the break back on top.