A goal either side of half time from the prolific Aleksandar Mitrovic took Fulham closer to the Premier League as the Championship leaders cruised to a comfortable 2-0 win at Queens Park Rangers.
The Serbian striker’s predatory finishing proved pivotal to deciding the west London derby. Mitrovic moved onto 37 goals for the season having converted a low cross from Fabio Carvalho to put the visitors ahead and he put the contest out of reach of Mark Warburton’s side by sending Kieran Westwood the wrong way from the penalty spot after referee Gavin Ward had harshly adjudged Lee Wallace guilty of handling Nico Williams’ cross.
Rangers showed plenty of spirit and desire in the early stages in front of a rare sell out crowd at the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium but Fulham’s fluent football carried a real cutting edge from the outset. The visitors fashioned their first opening after just three minutes with Mitrovic firing wide after Harry Wilson had helped on a Williams’ delivery. Rangers’ first foray saw the lively George Thomas driving into the side netting after he had sauntered into space on the left side of the penalty area.
Fulham were seeing more of the ball and popping it around with purpose. Joe Bryan almost surprised Westwood with a rising drive from fully 25 yards and the signs were ominous for Warburton. A beautiful move saw Fulham hit the front after fourteen minutes. The recalled Tom Cairney floated a ball over the R’s defence that Fabio Carvalho latched onto and the Portuguese teenager produced a low cross that Mitrovic turned into the bottom corner from six yards.
It was clinical from the master marksman and Fulham might easily have been out of sight by the break. Carvalho almost scored a sensational solo goal with his shot after a slalom run deflected off Dion Sanderson and wrongfooting a helpless Westwood only to bounce to safety off the post. A through ball from Cairney, who looked back to his peerless best in the middle of the park, put Bobby Decordova-Reid in behind the home defence but Westwood stood up well to narrow the angle and block the shot.
Mitrovic nearly forced home a header at the back post when he beat three defenders to Joe Bryan’s looping cross whilst Rangers’ lack of threat in the final third was summed up by Lyndon Dykes’ heavy touch when he appeared favourite to beat Marek Rodak from an acute angle. The Slovakian international, who had looked nervy with the ball at his feet earlier, was eventually tested in stoppage time by a Thomas volley but that was just a routine save.
The pattern of proceedings remained much the same after the interval. Wilson went agonsingly close with a venomous 30-yarder, before Mitrovic was denied a second twice in sixty seconds. Westwood, who proved creditably having arrived on loan after David Marshall’s injury, tipped over a header before Sanderson scrambled off the line from the Serbian at the ensuing corner.
A limping Stefan Johansen received a rapturous reception from the visiting fans as he made way for Ilias Chair, but Warburton’s gamble to open to open things up further by introducing Charlie Austin for Thomas swiftly backfired. Nathaniel Chalobah, just on as a replacement for Cairney, slid a low ball into the path of Williams whose cross appeared to strike Wallace on the arm. Referee Ward, surrounded by black shirts, pointed to the spot. Mitrovic made no mistake from twelve yards, rifling the spot-kick in the bottom corner before taking the acclaim of the Fulham faithful at the School End. Home frustration was summed up by the sight of John Eustace being dismissed from the QPR bench for dissent.
Fulham’s return to the top flight appears merely a matter of time – with Marco Silva’s men now fourteen points clear of third-placed Huddersfield with eight matches remaining. This efficient establishment of the west London bragging rights probably ends Rangers’ feint promotion hopes and it was the perfect way to erase any concerns after a pair of poor Fulham performances before the international break. Silva won’t admit to it, of course, but the Portuguese head coach could be forgiven for plotting out a route to Premier League survival ahead of time.
QUEENS PARK RANGERS (3-4-2-1): Westwood; Dickie, Sanderson, Barbet; Odubajo, Wallace, Field, Johansen (Chair 70); Amos (Dozzell 79), Thomas (Austin 73); Dykes. Subs (not used): Mahoney, Dunne, McCallum, Hendrick.
BOOKED: Wallace, Barbet, Field.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Williams, Bryan, Adarabioyo, Ream; Reed (Seri 87), Cairney (Chalobah 75); Wilson, Decordova-Reid (Kebano 79), Carvalho; Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Gazzaniga, Tete, Hector, Muniz.
GOALS: Mitrovic (14, pen 78).
REFEREE: Gavin Ward (Surrey).