On a magical night beside the Thames, Fulham finally ended their poor run of form since clinching promotion, slotting seven goals past a luckless Luton side and sealing the Championship title. Aleksandar Mitrovic, the talisman of a side set up to attack, broke the post-war second division scoring record in stoppage time – his second goal of an unforgettable evening, the sort of assured finish that he has specialised in this year. Luton’s own play-off hopes hinge on beating Reading on the final day, with their chances of an upset win over the league leaders diminished not only by a crippling injury crisis, but enforced changes before kick off and an early substitution.
New goalkeeper Matt Ingram, who arrived from Hull on an emergency loan yesterday, looked a little jittery in the early stages. He failed to collect a routine cross and appeared nervy when Harry Wilson whipped in the resultant corner, but Luton came to the Cottage with plenty of ambition as they tried to clinch a play-off spot. Kal Naismith typified their sense of adventure by galloping forward from his holding midfield role to stretch Marek Rodak with a low drive and the Slovakian goalkeeper had to be quick off his line to clear the danger with his feet after Robert Snodgrass had clipped a ball behind the Fulham back line.
The wily Snodgrass then supplied a dangerous corner that was headed over by Dan Potts, who might feel he should have done better having been largely left unattended. Fulham threatened first when Aleksandar Mitrovic nodded over a deep cross from Cairney, before the Serbian striker’s speculative shot from an acute angle almost sneaked between Ingram and his near post.
It was fitting that Cairney, who has already written his name into Fulham folklore, was the man to set the Whites on the way to the title. The classy captain has played a much more extensive role than expected this season after battling back from chronic knee injuries and he fired home Fulham’s hundredth goal of the campaign with a trademark left-footed drive high into the net after Harry Wilson had burst brilliantly in from the inside right channel. Luton’s evening took another dire turn when Fred Onyedinma, injured trying to keep pace with Cairney, limped off immediately after the goal.
Breaking the deadlock eased any nerves and Fulham were beginning to set their stuff, with Fabio Carvalho’s silky skills to the fore. The second arrived via an unlikely source when Kenny Tete lashed in a long-range drive as Luton’s defence backed off the Dutch full back. Five minutes before the break and Silva’s side were on easy street. Only Reece Burke and Tom Lockyer prevented the hosts from increasing the lead at the interval. Burke brilliantly denied Carvalho, whilst Lockyer slid in to clear from under his own crossbar as Wilson seemed set to score after rounding Ingram.
Cairney came agonisingly close to adding a third moments after half-time when a rising drive just cleared the crossbar but a beautifully worked goal five minutes later ended the contest. Mitrovic dropped deep to feed Wilson and the Welshman’s perfectly weighted touch sent Carvalho clear. The teenager measured a mature finish inside the far post and celebrated in front of a delirious Hammersmith End.
All the evening needed now was a goal for Mitrovic, who remained one short of matching Whittingham’s haul. It came just after the hour mark when the Serbian reacted quickest to steer a follow-up past Ingram after his initial shot had been blocked when Bobby Decordova-Reid had fashioned space in the area. The worsening deficit was bad news for Luton, whose play-off hopes could be disastrously hit by the late worsening of their goal difference.
Fulham showed no mercy at all. Decordova-Reid, whose energetic display down the left justified his selection, got his reward when he latched onto a lovely through ball from Carvalho and slotted beyond the unfortunate Ingram. The goalkeeper did save well from Decordova-Reid shortly afterwards, but any respite was brief. Substitute Jean-Michael Seri lashed in a daisycutter from distance shortly after replacing Cairney, but the moment Craven Cottage was waiting for came in injury time.
Mitrovic, a figure transformed after being ostracised by Scott Parker, finally eclipsed Whittingham’s landmark in the third minute of stoppage time. Wilson slipped the Serbian clear along the left flank and there was an air of inevitability about how Mitrovic held off his man and found the corner with a precise finish. Remarkably, this was a rampant Fulham side’s third 7-0 success of a surreal season – and a fitting way to seal the Championship title.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Tete, A. Robinson, Adarabioyo, Ream; Reed (Seri 72), Cairney (Muniz 86); Wilson, Decordova-Reid, Carvalho (Kebano 78); Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Gazzaniga, Bryan, Hector, Chalobah.
BOOKED: Wilson, Mitrovic.
GOALS: Cairney (29), Tete (39), Carvalho (54), Mitrovic (62, 90+2), Decordova-Reid (65), Seri (79).
LUTON TOWN (3-1-4-2): Ingram; Burke, Lockyer, Potts; Naismith; Onyedinma (Kioso 31), Bell, Lansbury, Campbell; Snodgrass (Clark 67); Hylton, Jerome (Muskwe 64). Subs (not used): Isted, Thorpe, Gomes Mendes, Cornick.
BOOKED: Lockyer, Potts, Lansbury, Snodgrass, Hylton, Muskwe.
REFEREE: Tim Robinson (West Sussex).