Aleksandar Mitrovic nodded in his 31st goal of the season – to equal Ivan Toney’s Championship record – and secure a hard-fought Fulham win at Hull City this afternoon. The Serbian striker’s glancing header from a fine Nico Williams cross settled a contest that the league leaders dominated but failed to kill off. In tricky conditions and on a dreadful playing surface, Marco Silva’s side were left hanging on against their spirited hosts but this slender success showed they have the stomach for a fight to go alongside their usual style.
Shota Arveladze hasn’t been able to follow up the sparkling win over Swansea that started his reign on Humberside but his charges – still uncomfortably close to the drop zone – made life difficult for the free-scoring Londoners. The Georgian switched from a back three to pack the midfield and Fulham failed to find their usual fluency, not helped by a pitch that cut off horribly. A wasteful Harry Wilson spurned the visitors’ best first half chances, first firing over after latching onto Tosin Adarabioyo’s through ball and rounding Matt Ingram before shooting straight at the goalkeeper when released by Mitrovic with the free Fabio Carvalho screaming for a square ball. On another day, the Welsh international could have been celebrating a first half hat-trick rather berating his finishing after lashing Carvalho’s cut back over the crossbar at the back post.
Hull hardly had a kick for the first twenty minutes but gradually began to warm to their task. Williams made a superb sliding challenge to halt a dangerous run from the on-loan Brentford forward Marcus Forss and then dived in to divert George Honeyman’s shot away from goal, even though the referee erroneously gave a goalkick. The biggest opening of the half arrived at the feet of Forss when Tim Ream slammed a clearance into the legs of Antonee Robinson. Marek Rodak dashed from his line to no avail, but the Finn fired off target with the goal gaping.
That represented a real let off for Fulham, who ended the first half ponderously as a few blood and thunder tackles flew in. They resumed after the break with more intensity and another threatening cross for Williams bounced off both Carvalho and Kebano without either being able to provide a telling touch. Mitrovic did connect with a Cairney free-kick, but Ingram grabbed hold of his shot. There was a sign of the danger Hull posed on the break, provided by the quick thinking of Kean Lewis-Potter who robbed Williams and raced in on goal, only for Rodak to push away the shot.
Carvalho was then thwarted by Ingram after Wilson had stolen the ball from Lewie Coyle and you wondered if this was going to be a frustrating afternoon for Fulham. Right on cue, Williams – who looked lively all afternoon as an attacking outlet – motored along the right wing and clipped an early cross between the Hull centre backs. Mitrovic effortlessly glanced a great header into the bottom corner, before celebrating in front of a section of the home support who had barracked him in the first half.
Fulham threatened to take a stranglehold on the contest as Wilson and Williams continued their telepathic connection down the right, but Hull grew in belief as they threw numbers forward in search of an equaliser. Ream halted a threatening run from Jacob Greaves before Rodak juggled with a Richard Smallwood shot but the hosts couldn’t conjure up another chance in four minutes of stoppage time. Bobby Decordova-Reid delivered an attack-ending foul right out of Stefan Johansen’s playbook as Silva’s side continued their unbeaten start to the calendar year.
HULL CITY (4-4-1-1): Ingram; Coyle, Fleming, McLoughlin, Greaves; Smallwood, Slater (Docherty 75), Longman (Moncur 80), Lewis-Potter; Honeyman; Forss (Smith 72). Subs (not used): Cartwright, Bernard, Jones, Elder.
BOOKED: Slater, Fleming.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Williams, A. Robinson, Adarabioyo, Ream; Chalobah, Cairney (Reed 76); Wilson (Decordova-Reid 76), Kebano, Carvalho; Mitrovic (Muniz 80). Subs (not used): Gazzaniga, Hector, Bryan, Seri.
GOAL: Mitrovic (57).
REFEREE: Andy Woolmer (Northamptonshire).