Aleksandar Mitrovic certainly knows how to pick his moments. The Serbian, deemed a flat track bully not worthy of the Premier League by the talking heads before the start of the season, offered another demonstration of his peerless penalty-box predatory with a last-gasp header to settle a thrilling west London derby in Fulham’s favour this afternoon. His decisive intervention – a perfectly placed header from Kevin Mbabu’s outstanding cross – came just a week after he had failed to convert a late spot-kick at Wolves and delivered Fulham’s first home league win over Brentford in 32 years. That Marco Silva’s side had squandered a seemingly comfortable two-goal cushion made their first victory of the season all the sweeter.
Mitrovic had convincingly won a physical battle with Pontus Jansson at the heart of the Bees’ back line but had nothing to show for it as the clock ticked towards injury time. That had more to do with the excellence of David Raya in the visiting goal, who somehow palmed away a Mitrovic header from point-blank range and made a sprawling save when the talismanic forward had been set free on goal by a terrible back pass. His frustration matched Fulham’s. The hosts had looked in total control, establishing a two goal lead through Bobby Decordova-Reid’s opener inside the first minute and a towering header from Joao Palhinha, but spoiled a splendid first half by allowing Christian Norgaard to escape at a corner just before the break and volley Brentford right back into the contest.
The Whites rode their luck in the second period. Ivan Toney had two goals ruled out for offside – the first via VAR – and Thomas Frank’s men looked much more like the side that had swatted Manchester United aside so straightforwardly last week in the second half. The visitors threw men forward, with Jay Stansfield producing a superb saving tackle to block a shot from Rico Henry, and were eventually rewarded when the Whites switched off down the right flank. Yoane Wisa worked his way to the byline and delivered a devilish low cross that Toney gleefully guided him. The striker’s mimicking of Mitrovic’s favoured celebration would tempt fate severely.
For a while, Fulham were rattled. Brentford were first to second balls and put a tiring home side under serious pressure. But the changes that Silva had arguably resisted for too long while his side were ahead tilted the game back in the Whites’ favour. Tom Cairney found pockets of space in front of the Bees back four and Andreas Pereira, who had earlier been exceptionally unlucky not to open his Fulham account with a fine free kick roamed menacingly along the right flank. It was Mbabu, who eventually replaced Kenny Tete, who swung over two telling crosses from the right. His first saw Raya claw out a Mitrovic header from underneath his own crossbar, but the second – sent in from fully 35 yards – gave the red hot striker a clear run and jump at the back post. Mitrovic nodded a magnificent finish beyond Raya’s despairing dive to send the Cottage into raptures.
Fulham’s first win in 25 top flight London derbies should have been much more comfortable. As they have throughout this season, Silva’s side started at a frenetic tempo. They could scarcely of dreamt about a better beginning. Mitrovic jinked his way inside and outside his man but his shot was blocked into the path of Stansfield, whose own effort was diverted onto the bar by Raya. Just when the chance looked like it had gone, there was Bobby Decordova-Reid to follow up. What a start after just 42 seconds.
Raya made good reaction saves from Pereira and Stansfield, who worked so hard out of position on the right flank, before Mitrovic had a goal correctly chalked off by VAR when he was in an offside position. You felt Fulham had to make their dominance count and they did when Palhinha, a colossus alongside Harrison Reed in central midfield once again, climbed highest to head home Pereira’s corner. Fulham’s afternoon then lurched from the sublime to the ridiculous as Brentford burst into level following Norgaard’s opener. The Danish midfielder was fortunate to remain on the field after a lamentable lunge at Stansfield, but perhaps the most pleasing element of this Fulham performance was how they found another gear when the Bees appeared likelier to nick all three points in a frenetic finale.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Leno; Tete (Mbabu 77), A. Robinson, Adarabioyo, Ream; Reed, Palhinha; Stansfield (Cairney 77), Decordova-Reid, Pereira; Mitrovic (Duffy 90+2). Subs (not used): Rodak, Diop, Chalobah, Francois, Harris.
BOOKED: Tete, Mbabu, Palhina.
BRENTFORD (4-3-3): Raya; Hickey (Lewis-Potter 70), Henry, Jansson, Mee; Norgaard, Jensen (Janelt 70) Da Silva (Baptiste 74); Mbuemo, Wissa (Ghoddos 83), Toney. Subs (not used): Strakosha, Sorenson, Rasmussen, Onyeke, Dervisoglu.
BOOKED: Da Silva, Mee.
REFEREE: Peter Bankes (Merseyside).