A hat-trick from Aleksandar Mitrovic ensured Fulham cruised through their lunchtime showdown with promotion rivals West Brom and consolidated their hold on the second Championship automatic promotion places. Mitrovic was the beneficiary of a generous refereeing decision when a debatable penalty was awarded against the unfortunate Kyle Bartley before profiting from a diabolical backpass from Robert Snodgrass to double the hosts’ lead. He completed his third Fulham hat trick from close range with eight minutes remaining, turning home Harry Wilson’s cross after a flowing move.
The only blot on Fulham’s copybook was the late sending off of Tosin Adarabioyo, so imposing on the back in recent weeks, for a horrible lunge at Grady Diangana. Adarabioyo will now miss Fulham’s next three fixtures and he was the second man to see red after Darnell Furlong was dismissed for bringing down Wilson as the Welsh winger bore down on goal. Marco Silva’s side were comfortable by this point – but the head coach won’t be happy with such a senseless loss of control.
An even opening saw Matt Phillips denied a clear sight of goal by a timely Tim Ream block before an innovative corner routine saw Neeskens Kebano tee up Wilson on the edge of the box, with the returning Jake Livermore getting in the way of a goalbound effort. Kebano, lively all afternoon again, tried his luck from range after the visitors had half cleared a free-kick but his volley flew fractionally wide. The hosts were attacking with increasing intensity, but the game’s decisive moment came shortly afterwards.
Denis Odoi, rewarded for his consistency since replacing Kenny Tete with another start, nipped in to pinch possession and fed Bobby Decordova-Reid, who burst through the inside right channel. He slipped a ball into the penalty area that Mitrovic pursued with Bartley and referee Michael Salisbury pointed to the spot after the Serbian ended up on the turf. Television replays suggested Bartley got plenty of the ball and could consider himself distinctly unfortunate. After a significant delay, Mitrovic stroked the spot kick beyond Sam Johnstone and into the bottom right corner.
Fulham might have had a second immediately afterwards when a sensational bit of skill saw Kebano bamboozle a couple of Baggies defenders to set up Jean Michael Seri, but the Ivorian blazed over from ten yards. West Brom managed a spirited riposte with Phillips shooting over when well placed and Bartley heading wide at the far post. Marek Rodak made a smart reaction save to claw Matt Clarke’s header away from the top corner after the Brighton loanee had been left unattended at a free-kick and the Slovakian goalkeeper had to be alert to claim Bartley’s header at the far post from a well worked corner.
But the visitors pressed the self destruct button five minutes before the break. Seri snapped at the heels of Snodgrass whose underhit pass had no chance of reaching Johnstone. Mitrovic latched onto the gift in a flash, sliding in to snaffle a crucial second to give Fulham some breathing space. It could have been vital had the Baggies taken several second half chances as Valerian Ismael’s side set out to prove a point after the break. A careless concession of possession by Seri saw Valerian Ismael’s side break at pace with Karlan Grant teeing up Conor Townsend but the wing back’s strike whistled wide.
They were still living dangerous at the back and almost became the architects of their own downfall again when a dreadful pass from Clarke put Kebano in the clear but the Congolese winger rolled his measured finish agonisingly wide of the far post. Adarabioyo blocked a Grant effort at the other end before a devilish delivering from Townsend presented Livermore with a glorious opportunity, but the England international skied his finish on the stretch from five yards. Any hope Ismael’s side had of a revival disappeared with Furlong with twenty minutes to play – with Salisbury showing red after he had slid in as last minute to challenge Wilson. The West Brom wing back again got plenty of the ball before his studs caught the Fulham winger.
The hosts could have quickly added a third with Decordova-Reid and Kebano going close before Johnstone produced a fine reaction save to keep out Adarabioyo’s header. He was powerless to prevent Mitrovic from completing his hat trick from a couple of yards, though, after magical footwork from Wilson along the byline. The Serbian striker now has eight goals in his last four matches – and appears unstoppable. Adarabioyo’s studs up lunge on Diangana apart – this was the perfect afternoon for Fulham.
FULHAM (4-3-2-1): Rodak; Odoi, A. Robinson, Adarabioyo, Ream; Reed (Carvalho 84), Seri; Wilson, Kebano (Cairney 84), Decordova-Reid; Mitrovic (Muniz 84). Subs (not used): Gazzaniga, Tete, Hector, Onomah.
SENT OFF: Adarabioyo.
GOALS: Mitrovic (pen 20, 40, 82).
WEST BROMWICH ALBION (3-4-2-1): Johnstone; Bartley, Ajayi, Clarke; Furlong, Townsend, Snodgrass, Livermore; Phillips (Diangana 59), Grant (Molumby 73); Hugill (C. Robinson 59). Subs (not used): Button, Kipre, K. Bryan, Reach.
BOOKED: Ajayi, Bartley, Snodgrass.
SENT OFF: Furlong.
REFEREE: Michael Salisbury (Lancashire)