The red hot Aleksandar Mitrovic added another brace to his astonishing collection of Championship goals as Fulham saw off plucky Peterborough to move nine points clear at the top of the table. The Serbian set a new mark for the highest number of Championship goals in a season – moving past the record set by former Posh forward Ivan Toney – but the league leaders were made to sweat for all three points in the closing stages after Jack Marriott pulled a goal back for the visitors late on.
Peterborough, watched by former manager Grant McCann who is set for another spell in the London Road dug out, turned in a spirited showing under the interim management of Matthew Etherington, who was assisted by former Fulham winger Simon Davies. They made light of their perilous position, eight points from safety, with some progressive passing and an eager to offer support to lone striker Jonson Clarke-Harris which rather belied an ultra-defensive 4-1-4-1 set-up. Disciplined in defence they made it difficult for the hosts to play through them with the first chance arriving after ten minutes when Mitrovic sent a header wide from Neeskens Kebano’s cross.
Mitrovic then headed an Antonee Robinson cross straight at Steven Benda, who had an inspired game in the Peterborough goal. Chances were still at a premium even though Kebano and Jean Michael Seri, both returning to Marco Silva’s starting eleven this evening, seemed to have oceans of room to roam with the ball. The Ivorian almost broke the deadlock with a deflected drive that Benda did well to hold after Bobby Decordova-Reid had managed to hold the ball up in the penalty area whilst grappling with two defenders.
Peterborough certainly weren’t seeking simply to stuff numbers behind the ball and Etherington’s side appeared dangerous on the counter-attack. A flowing move down the right eventually saw Reece Brown move into space just outside the box but Marek Rodak easily fielded the midfielder’s low shot. Harrison Reed, restored to central midfield this evening, spurned a great chance to open his Fulham account when Mitrovic nodded a beautiful Seri ball into his path – failing to get a clean contact on his volleyed finish.
Just when it looked as if the Posh had weathered the storm, Harrison Burrows clumsily fouled Mitrovic when they seemed little danger beyond the far post. There was never any doubt that the Serbian would pick himself up to take the penalty and he dispatched the spot-kick decisively to Benda’s right to move onto 32 goals in 30 Championship games. Fulham were largely in control now, but survived a scare at the back when a mix-up between Decordova-Reid and Rodak allowed Sammie Smzodics to stab goalwards from inside the six-yard box but the ball trickled into the side netting.
Peterborough came out with more intent after the interval and almost found a route back into the match. A break down the left saw Szmodics narrowly fail to find Brown with a deep cross to the back post and then Clarke-Harris’ deflected free-kick from 25 yards wrongfooted Rodak but just crept over the bar. As is their wont, Fulham flew forward in response with a sensational sixty-yard run from Neco Williams set up a crossing opportunity for Decordova-Reid and Benda did brilliantly to tip Reed’s volley over for a corner. From the set play, Mitrovic managed to lose his marker but contrived to head well wide.
That felt like a significant let-off for Peterborough, but any relief proved temporary. Fabio Carvalho spun sublimely away from plenty of Peterborough shirts in midfield and then threaded a fine ball through to Kebano out on the left. The Congolese winger delivered a wonderful ball to the feet of Mitrovic and the number nine’s half volley possessed too much power for Benda to keep it out. Ivan Cavaleiro almost announced his arrival as a substitute with a sensational individual goal as he jinked past a couple of Peterborough defenders but his shot was deflected wide of goal. He went even closer with a trademark curler from the inside left position but Benda did superbly to claw that effort away from the top corner.
Mitrovic was furious with himself for not bringing up his hat-trick when he headed a sumptuous Seri cross straight into Benda’s gloves before Carvalho’s quick feet had the teenager scurrying infield from the right flank only for the Peterborough goalkeeper to push away a lovely left-footed strike. Morton went close at the other end after punishing some Seri hesitancy in the Fulham box, but the young forward was soon to set up a grandstand finish.
Benda made a couple of brilliant saves at the other end, spreading himself well to save from Mitrovic after Seri’s ball over the top looked to have played him in. The on-loan Swansea keeper then denied Harry Wilson from another superb Seri through ball and set his side back on the attack. Morton burst away down the left flank, beating Tosin Adarabioyo, and squaring for Marriott to shoot high into the net and halve Peterborough’s arrears.
That made for a nervy final four minutes of stoppage time as the visitors sent in a couple of set plays and long throws but Fulham stood firm to return to winning ways.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Williams, A. Robinson, Adarabioyo, Ream; Reed (Wilson 63), Seri; Decordova-Reid (Onomah 83), Kebano (Cavaleiro 63), Carvalho, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Gazzaniga, Tete, Hector, Chalobah.
GOALS: Mitrovic (pen 28, 62).
PETERBOROUGH UNITED (4-1-4-1): Benda; Knight, Burrows, Kent, Edwards; Brown (Morton 72); Ward, Grant, Norburn, Szmodics (Jade-Jones 77); Clarke-Harris (Marriott 71). Subs (not used): Cornell, Marriott, Poku, Jones, Mumba, Morton, Fuchs.
GOAL: Marriott (89).
REFEREE: Jared Gillett (Australia).