This was a world away from Fulham’s sublime seven-goal showing at Blackburn. Marco Silva’s side rode their luck at London Road both before and after Aleksandar Mitrovic’s measured header gave them the lead over plucky Peterborough. Marek Rodak made a couple of superb saves to deny the powerful Jonson Clarke-Harris an equaliser and Fulham clung on to three points they barely deserved. The Whites will produce many more eye-catching displays, but it it these sort of gritty victories that clinch promotion from the Championship.
The decisive moment came sixteen minutes from time. Neeskens Kebano, who had gradually been getting the better of the Posh’s makeshift right back Joe Ward, tricked his way towards the byline and produced a peach of a cross. Dan Butler and Frankie Kent left the task of picking up Mitrovic to each other and the Serbian striker glanced his twentieth goal of the season inside the far post. Fulham’s hulking number nine had done little until then – but proved clinical when it mattered.
The narrow defeat was harsh on Peterborough. If they replicate these levels of endeavour and effectiveness, they should have little trouble surviving the drop. Darren Ferguson switched to a compact 4-4-2 and succeeded in denying the Londoners’ the acres of space they enjoyed at Ewood Park. The Posh weathered a period of early Fulham pressure and dominated much of a first half where the visitors’ only significant effort on goal which saw Kebano lash high and wide after being slipped through by Harry Wilson. The hosts, on the other hand, created a hatful of presentable chances.
The recalled Clarke-Harris posed problems for Tim Ream and Michael Hector throughout. He outpaced Ream to reach a fine floated ball from the back by Kent and crashed a left-footed finish against the angle of post and bar from an acute angle. That seemed to spark the belief in Ferguson’s charges. Jack Taylor scuffed wide from a Kent flick on and then Rodak saved smartly from Sammie Szmodics after he had got the better of Hector. The Slovakian goalkeeper then pushed away a well-struck free kick from Ward at full stretch as Posh finished the first period well on top.
Silva replaced Denis Odoi, who looked utterly bewildered by Siriki Dembele’s pace and trickery and was fortunate to escape a second booking, with Kenny Tete at the break. His side immediately looked more threatening with Mitrovic almost punishing Dai Cornell for a poor goalkick. The in-form forward, played in by Bobby Decordova-Reid, was thwarted by a fine reaction save from the Welsh goalkeeper. Cornell saved smartly from Mitrovic again five minutes later – with the Serbian visibly disappointed not to have placed his volley from Decordova-Reid’s cross either side of the goalkeeper.
Peterborough certainly weren’t lying down, though. Ollie Norburn, who had seconds earlier produced a brilliant block to prevent Fulham profiting from a fine Wilson cross, played a glorious ball over the visiting back line to release Smozdics, but the Irish midfielder couldn’t get away from the recovering Ream and Rodak easily repelled the shot. Silva’s replacement of Seri with Tom Cairney, and shifting Harrison Reed into a deeper role, arguably tilted the game in Fulham’s favour.
Kebano was now teasing an exhausted Ward for fun down the left flank and Decordova-Reid burst onto a clever lay-off from Mitrovic, but drove wide when it seemed simpler to score. Any anguish didn’t last long, however, as Mitrovic’s header five minutes later put Silva’s side in front. Kebano might have doubled the lead a couple of minutes later with a sensational strike from 30 yards but he was denied a goal of the season contender by a stunning save from Cornell, who somehow clawed the ball away from his top corner.
The hosts mounted a late siege on the Fulham goal in search of point. They would have claimed one too were it not for Rodak’s razor-sharp reflexes. He pushed an angled drive from Clarke-Harris onto the far post after Dembele had won possession in his own and driven deep into Fulham territory. Silva signalled his intention to hang on to a slender advantage by sacrificing Mitrovic for Alfie Mawson and, in the final minute of added time, Rodak was required to palm away a Clarke-Harris free-kick. It wasn’t pretty or comfortable, but Fulham’s fifth consecutive clean sheet secured a sixth successive victory.
PETERBOROUGH UNITED (4-4-2): Cornell; Ward (Kanu 85), Butler, Kent, Beevers (Edwards 79); Burrows (Poku 85), Norburn, Taylor, Dembele; Szmodics, Clarke-Harris. Subs (not used): Blackmore, Knight, Coventry, Grant.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rodak, Odoi (Tete 45), A. Robinson, Hector, Ream; Reed, Seri (Cairney 63); Wilson, Kebano, Decordova-Reid, Mitrovic (Mawson 89). Subs (not used): Gazzaniga, Onomah, Carvalho, Muniz.
BOOKED: Odoi, Kebano, Cairney.
GOAL: Mitrovic (74).
REFEREE: Dean Whitestone (Northamptonshire).