Aleksandar Mitrovic marked his return from injury with a vital goal as Fulham twice fought back from behind to pick up a point in a pulsating draw with AFC Bournemouth at Craven Cottage this afternoon.
Cherries’ caretaker boss Gary O’Neill bemoaned referee Graham Scott’s decision to award a penalty for Jefferson Lerma’s pulling down of the Serbian striker seven minutes after half time but, as Marco Silva was quick to point out following the final whistle, the award followed the precedent set by Chris Kavanagh at West Ham last weekend. More pertinently, Mitrovic – who missed the match at the London Stadium – slotted home his first club goal since early September to end Fulham a deserved share of the spoils in an end-to-end encounter.
Silva considered this two points dropped, but his side could easily have left with nothing at all given the sloppiness of their start. Bournemouth are an entirely different beast from the team that seemed relegation certainties when Scott Parker was sacked at the end of August, and this point makes it ten points from six matches since O’Neill stepped up to succeed the former Fulham manager at Dean Court. The Cherries are much more adventurous than under Parker – something they underlined with their first attack, as well as ruthlessly exploiting the presence of Bobby Decordova-Reid as a makeshift full back for the second successive weekend.
The visitors took the lead inside two minutes with a wonderfully worked move. Dominic Solanke dropped into space in front of the Fulham defence, receiving a pass from Marcus Tavernier and finding Philip Billing high up on the left flank. The Dane delivered a low ball back to the one-time England international, who capitalised on the lack of anticipation between new central defensive Tim Ream and Issa Diop, to volley beyond Bernd Leno.
Such an early setback stunned the home crowd, but Fulham stuck to their approach and poured men forward. They saw plenty of the ball but certainly lacked penetration initially. Neeskens Kebano miscued horribly after a beautiful turn and cross from Harrison Reed, whilst Joao Palhinha sent a sighter straight down Neto’s throat before Mitrovic saw an effort deflected over. From the ensuing corner, the Whites were level. Andreas Perreira’s delicious delivery was emphatically headed home by Diop, for his first goal since moving to west London.
But just went you thought an equaliser would galvanise the hosts, Bournemouth attacked with renewed vigour. Former Fulham full back Ryan Fredericks was incensed he wasn’t awarded a penalty for a push by Ream but the Cherries’ anger soon dissipated when Jefferson Lerma stroked their second from only a second shot at goal. After Solanke had sauntered in menacing from the right, the midfielder found space in front of Reed to pick out the bottom corner with aplomb.
It might have got even better for Bournemouth before the break. Lewis Cook’s clever clip from a short corner saw Leno improvise a save from Solanke’s header, but the former Arsenal goalkeeper did superbly to tip over Adam Smith’s follow-up. The German’s breathtaking goalkeeping proved a turning point and Ream was forced into a last-ditch tackle to prevent Solanke from going through on goal.
Silva took decisive action during the interval – sending Tom Cairney on for the second period in place of an ineffectual Harrison Reed. The Fulham captain gave the Whites greater control in the engine room and he picked out the positive pass to drive his side forward. Willian also came off the bench at half time and the hosts suddenly carried a far greater. Lerma’s decision to wrestle with Mitrovic at a free-kick seemed senseless, even more so once the Serbian had rolled the spot-kick into the bottom right corner.
Bournemouth remained dangerous on the break, something Solanke signified when he sped away from Ream to reach Ryan Christie’s through ball and force Leno into a sharp save at his near post. But O’Neill’s outfit spend most of the last twenty minutes penned in their own half, desperately trying to hang on for a point. Cairney saw an on-target shot blocked and Mitrovic missing a pair of good chances. The Fulham number nine could barely get off the ground at this point but still worked Neto with a rising drive and then pulled an effort past the near post in added time.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Leno; Decordova-Reid, A. Robinson, Diop, Ream; Palhina, Reed (Cairney 45); Kebano (Wilson 62), James (Willian 45), Pereira (Vincius 88); Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rodak, Mbabu, Adarabioyo, Duffy, Harris.
BOOKED: Decordova-Reid, Ream.
GOALS: Diop (22), Mitrovic (pen 53).
AFC BOURNEMOUTH (4-4-2): Neto; Fredericks, A. Smith, Mepham, Senesi; Christie (Stacey 89), Tavernier (Anthony 75), Lerma, Cook, Solanke (Moore 89), Billing (Zemura 80). Subs (not used): Travers, Rothwell, Stevens, Stanislas, Dembele.
GOALS: Solanke (2), Lerma (29).
REFEREE: Graham Scott (Oxfordshire).