Mitrovic nicks a point for Fulham

Given the sloppy nature of Fulham’s start against high-flying Watford this lunchtime, Slavisa Jokanovic would have been mightily pleased with the way he side ended the contest with a point. For the second week in succession, the Whites surrendered an all-too-avoidable goal inside the first ninety seconds and, just as at the Etihad last weekend, Fulham could have been dead and buried within the first half. That they produced a stirring second half recovery, and might have nicked all three points at the death, owed much to the predatory instincts of the inspirational Aleksandar Mitrovic, some real resilience and two decisive half-time changes from the head coach.

Jokanovic selected his sixth different back four of the season, but the hosts’ defensive frailties didn’t take long to come to the surface. From a straightforward throw in, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Calum Chambers, Alfie Mawson and Jean-Michael Seri all squandered opportunities to clear their lines, allowing Will Hughes to poke a ball through for Andre Gray, who gleefully tucked a finish past the stranded Marcus Bettinelli. Gray and the powerful Troy Deeney have struck up a potent partnership that has helped the Hornets surge towards the top of the Premier League table and they looked likely to secure another victory inside a first half that the visitors thoroughly dominated.

Only a combination of the brilliance of Marcus Bettinelli in the Fulham goal and some careless finishing kept the deficit down to a single goal. Bettinelli, who was outstanding in the 3-0 defeat by champions Manchester City last week, made himself big to deny Deeney at his near post and alive to the danger when a woefully short back header from Mawson gave Gray a glorious chance to grab his second – spreading himself to repel the former Brentford forward’s snapshot. In between those two blocks, Fulham escaped unharmed when Christian Kabasele’s bullet header bounced off Ryan Sessegnon’s back and away to safety at a Watford corner.

Mawson and Chambers looked all at sea at the heart of an overworked Fulham defence. Mawson was hauled off at half-time having been booked for a wild hack at Roberto Pereyra, whilst Chambers had donated the ball to Watford in dangerous positions with concerning regularity. Fosu-Mensah was more than fortunate to escape a red card midway through the first period after a late lunge at Deeney and Fulham could count themselves lucky to still be in the contest at the break, although Pereyra was only a yard away from curling in a splendid finish from an acute angle just before half-time.

Jokanovic’s change of shape and personnel proved pivotal at the break. Fulham had threatened only fleetingly in the first half, with Luciano Vietto twice denied by the alertness of Ben Foster, and referee Martin Atkinson waving away a penalty appeal when Mitrovic appeared to have been flattened in the box. They struggled to keep the ball – something that was rectified when the peerless Denis Odoi replaced Mawson – and Jokanovic also gambled by introducing Floyd Ayite for Kevin McDonald to try and give his side another outlet in attack.

It took just four minutes for Fulham to fashion an opportunity far more clear-cut than they had managed in the first half. Andre Schurrle, now operating off Mitrovic, darted into space down the left and delivered a teasing cross that the Serbian striker rose majestically to meet with his head. He was furious that he ballooned it harmlessly over the bar but it sounded a warning to Watford of Fulham’s attacking intentions. Vietto then blazed disappointing in the Hammersmith End after a lightning counter attack before Bettinelli got down sharply to deny Gray at his near post at the other end.

Fulham gradually began to work up a head of steam and stepped up the intensity when Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa replaced the ineffectual Stefan Johansen. Patterns of patient possession football penned Watford back and Mitrovic, who had sent two headed half chances wide, flicked home his fifth goal of the season from close range after fine work from Vietto and Sessegnon down the left with twelve minutes to go. The lively Argentinian scampered away from Daryl Janmaat and had the composure to pick out Mitrovic, who got the deftest of touches beyond Foster at the near post to level matters.

A gripping and open finale ensued. Deeney robbed Chambers outside the Fulham defender’s own box but then lacked the conviction to go for goal himself, overhitting his intended pass for Isaac Success, before the substitute almost found a winner on his own, working half a yard of space beautifully with a shimmy, but Bettinelli blocked the Nigerian’s shot with his legs. It was Jokanovic’s side who almost stole the victory at the death with Foster producing a magnificent save to deny Mitrovic a winner before he thudded a header against the bar. The former England goalkeeper somehow clawed away a curler from 20 yards that looked destined for the top corner but could only watch as Mitrovic clattered the crossbar with a venomous header from the resulting corner.

FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; Fosu-Mensah, R. Sessegnon, Mawson (Odoi 45), Chambers; McDonald (Ayite 45), Johansen (Anguissa 64), Seri; Schurrle, Vietto, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rico, Christie, Le Marchand, Kamara.

BOOKED: Mawson, Fosu-Mensah.

GOAL: Mitrovic (78).

WATFORD (4-2-2-2): Foster; Janmaat, Holebas, Kabasele, Cathcart; Capoue, Doucoure; Hughes (Femenia 70), Pereyra (Sema 90); Deeney, Gray (Success 80). Subs (not used): Gomes, Mariappa, Chalobah, Masina.

BOOKED: Holebas.

GOAL: Gray (2).

REFEREE: Martin Atkinson (West Yorkshire).

ATTENDANCE: 23,418.

Sane strike sets City on easy street

There can be no shame in beaten by this imperious Manchester City side, but given the high standards Slavisa Jokanovic expects of his own team, the Serbian head coach will have been disappointed with how easy the hosts achieved a routine win at the Etihad Stadium this afternoon. Fulham’s fondness for playing out for the back was always likely to invite pressure from such a potent attacking unit and they were up against from the moment a poor touch from Jean-Michael Seri allowed Fernandinho to gallop into the space beyond the visitors back four and hand the returning Leroy Sane a close-range tap in two minutes in.

But for an excellent display from Marcus Bettinelli, Fulham could have been on the receiving end of a cricket score. They did well to keep it to three, although there was the sneaking suspicion that City eased off after Raheem Sterling had added a more convincing gloss to the scoreline early in the second half. The Fulham academy graduate, who won a surprise call up to Gareth Southgate’s England squad last week, made a string of fine saves including two in the space of eight first-half minutes, first spreading himself to deny Sergio Aguero and then brilliantly turning Sterling’s drive onto the crossbar after he had been sent clear by the brilliant Bernado Silva.

Fulham were dangerously close to being swept away by wave after wave of City attacks. Pep Guardiola’s men did double their lead in the 21st minute, however, when Bernado Silva beat Stefan Johansen and drifted dangerously along the by-line. His inviting cross looped up off a Fulham defender and David Silva slammed home off the underside of the bar, with Bettinelli leading unsuccessful appeals for handball against the Spaniard.

The visitors’ commitment to going forward was commendable but they struggled for rhythm and possession as City dominated proceedings. Ryan Sessegnon, who came through a difficult afternoon at left back in credit, did brilliantly to dispossess Bernado Silva and play a forward ball for Luciano Vietto. The on-loan winger ferried the ball on to Andre Schurrle, whose ambitious shot from around 30 yards was always rising and sailed high over Ederson’s bar. The German did draw two excellent saves from the City custodian before the break, though, with the Brazilian beating out a venomous strike before showing great agility to tip over an effort that threatened the top corner.

The greater danger was still be found at the other end. Bettinelli did brilliantly to make himself big and thwart Sane on his near post and then, deep into stoppage time, he somehow stopped a superb run from Sterling with an excellent block when a third goal looked certain. The England international did get on the scoresheet two minutes after half-time, however, applying the simplest of finishes into an empty net from close range after Aguero had tormented Alfie Mawson down the right.

That the scoring ended there was something of a result for Fulham in itself. Denis Odoi bravely blocked a goalbound drive from Bernado Silva, before a brilliant Mawson tackle denied substitute Gabriel Jesus a goal with his first touch. Fernandinho drilled a low strike fractionally wide, before Bernado Silva somehow failed to grab the goal his magnificent display deserved – spooning wastefully over the bar after excellent approach play from Jesus.

The visitors had a strong spell to end the contest. Floyd Ayite made his first appearance since May as a lively substitute and almost marked his return with a goal, but his shot drifted well. The battling Aleksandar Mitrovic went even closer in stoppage time, forcing a brilliant stop from Ederson with a powerful effort from the edge of the box. Guardiola was fulsome in his praise of Fulham’s ambition in his post-match press conference – but in truth Jokanovic’s men were never close to being able to stop the City juggernaut.

MANCHESTER CITY (4-3-3): Ederson; Walker, Delph (Gündogan 67), Otamendi, Laporte; Bernardo Silva, Fernandinho, David Silva; Sterling (Mahrez 74), Agüero (Gabriel Jesus 54), Sané. Subs (not used): Muric, Stones, Zinchenko, Foden.

GOALS: Sane (2), David Silva (21), Sterling (47).

FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; Christie, R. Sessegnon, Odoi, Mawson; McDonald, Johansen, Seri (Anguissa 56); Schurrle, Vietto (Ayite 69), Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Fabri, Chambers, Le Marchand, Fosu-Mensah, Bryan.

REFEREE: Stuart Attwell (Nuneaton).

ATTENDANCE: 53,307

Jokanovic refuses to blame Mitrovic

Slavisa Jokanovic refused to blame Aleksandar Mitrovic after the Serbian striker gave away a late penalty as Fulham blew a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 at Brighton and Hove Albion this afternoon.

Mitrovic had earlier scored his fourth goal of the season to put Fulham 2-0 up at the AMEX Stadium, but turned villain with six minutes of the game to go after handling in his own box to concede the penalty from which Glenn Murray levelled the scores. Jokanovic told his post-match press conference that Mitrovic didn’t need to apologise to his team-mates:

In the end we gave them some kind of present, it’s really bad luck, Mitrovic touched the ball with his hand and he completed a really good game, scored a good goal, fighting well, this is part of football too and we must accept and try to fix some of the problems that we found during the game today.

It’s hard for him, he touched the ball in our box with his hand but it’s part of football too. These kind of mistakes are bad luck, it happens and he is strong enough not to be affected so much after this kind of situation, I am focussed on another part of the work, he scored another goal, he was fighting well, he was our target man and participated a lot, he must be satisfied.

The Fulham admitted to mixed emotions after seeing his side pegged back from a position of strength.

We had some mixed sensations. After playing one hour very well, we showed our professionalism and after we were really solid we were then in some kind of trouble as we made important and sloppy mistakes and we paid an expensive price.

We must be satisfied we won a point for the first time in a Premier League game away from home and be unsatisfied completely in this kind of result away from home. We want to show our ambition and our ambition for our supporters too, they go home with mixed sensations and won’t be completely satisfied. It’s a great achievement for us, playing in the most important league in the world, now this is not enough, we want to win games and this is leaves us unsatisfied.

Fulham let two-goal lead slip at Brighton

A brace from veteran striker Glenn Murray inspired Brighton to mount an impressive fightback from 2-0 down and claim a point against Fulham in an absorbing contest at the AMEX Stadium this afternoon.

The three points from these two sides’ first ever top-flight meeting looked set to be heading back to London when Aleksandar Mitrovic stroked home his fourth of goal of the season to double the visitors’ advantage after Andre Schürrle had put them in front. But Slavisa Jokanovic’s side quickly had any illusions of comfort dispelled by Murray and Mitrovic was to go from hero to zero, conceding a late penalty after being adjudged to have handled in his own area. Unlike Pascal Gross, who had seen a first half penalty superbly saved by Marcus Bettinelli, Murray made no mistake from the spot and set up an end-to-end finale, where both sides spurned chances to win it.

This was a strange game where Fulham, even at two goals to the good, struggled to get their fluid passing football functioning in the absence of injured captain Tom Cairney. Jokanovic’s men never seemed in control of the contest, initially knocked off kilter by Albion’s energetic high pressing game and a high-tempo start. The Serbian head coach elected to deploy Maxime Le Marchand, impressive at centre back in his first few outings for the Cottagers at left back in place of Joe Bryan and the Frenchman’s lack of adventure severely limited Fulham’s options in the final third. More crucially, he also sparked Brighton’s unlikely comeback by presenting possession to Anthony Knockaert and, moments later, Murray had halved the deficit.

Fulham had to weather an concerted spell of early Brighton pressure as the Seagulls swarmed dangerously around the away side’s penalty box and won a succession of set plays. Murray, Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy all offered warnings of their ability in the air – and another long afternoon on the south coast seemed in prospect for the Whites, who had lost all of their last five meetings with Brighton. Alfie Mawson impressed on his league debut after coming through 75 minutes of League Cup action against Exeter City in midweek, but all of his composure and Premier League experience were needed to guide the visitors through a tough start.

They were indebted to Bettinelli for preserving parity after the goalkeeper did brilliantly to dive to his right and claw away Gross’s 24th minute penalty. Lee Probert’s awarding of the spot-kick might not have been controversial – as Luciano Vietto clearly upended Murray as he sought to turn in the penalty area – but Fulham were incensed that the Brighton striker was not flagged offside earlier in the move. Justice was done, but Jokanovic’s men still struggled to plot a way through the Albion midfield, with Davy Propper and Dale Stephens successfully nullifying their pretty passing game.

Fulham had threatened only sporadically, through a speculative Jean-Michael Seri shot and a wayward Mitrovic header, before taking the lead on the stroke of half-time. Seri, who oozed class again throughout, fashioned a few yards of space of the edge of the box after being found by Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa and floated a devilish ball between the Brighton back line and Mat Ryan. Schürrle stole into the space and swept a clinical finish to score his second goal in as many games for his new club.

The game followed a similar pattern after the break. Albion looked the more threatening in the final third and should have been level ten minutes into the second period. Propper produced a brilliant through ball that sent Solly March through on goal, but the winger somehow spooned his finish high over the crossbar with only Bettinelli to beat. Chris Hughton scowled in frustration on the touchline and his anger only grew six minutes later when Fulham took advantage of some sloppy defending to double their lead.

Mitrovic punished one-time Fulham target Dunk’s failure to deal with a lofted ball forward, nipping in to steal possession and then leaving the Brighton centre back trailing in his wake as he surged into the penalty area. Ryan did well to save Mitrovic’s first effort, but the Serbian striker rolled the rebound into the bottom corner to send the travelling fans into ecstasy. The former Newcastle forward has four goals in as many games since completing his protracted move from St. James’ Park – not bad for someone supposedly not clinical enough for the Premier League.

It was then that Fulham’s fallibility began to show. Jokanovic isn’t a coach who tells his teams to shut up shop – as demonstrated by Le Marchand’s attempt to pop off a shot pass as the rest of his back line pushed up the pitch. His ball inside was seized upon by the dangerous Knockaert who set off on a marauding run in from the right before picking the perfect moment to play in Murray, who had all the time in the world to thread the ball through the legs of a helpless Bettinelli.

That goal changed the complexion of a contest that might otherwise have meandered out of Brighton’s reach. The home side were galvanised and, after Hughton threw on Jurgen Locadia, went even more direct. Fulham appeared to have dealt with a dangerous free-kick when Mitrovic looked to bring the ball down in his own box with only Ryan Sessegnon for company. The assistant referee immediately flagged for a penalty and Murray made no mistake – sending Bettinelli the wrong way from 12 yards.

There was still time for either side to win it. Martin Montoya sent a rasping drive fractionally wide as Brighton looked for a grandstand finish before Sessegnon slalomed his way past two Brighton defenders but his tame finish – into the arms of Ryan – couldn’t match the quality of the teenager’s terrific approach play. All in all, the draw felt like a fair result.

BRIGHTON AND HOVE ALBION (4-4-1-1): Ryan; Montoya, Bong, Dunk, Duffy; Stephens, Propper, Knockaert (Jahanbakhsh 74), March; Gross (Bissouma 60); Murray. Subs (not used): Button, Kayal, Balogun, Bernardo.

BOOKED: Stephens, Propper, Murray.

GOALS: Murray (67, pen 84).

FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; Fosu-Mensah, Le Marchand, Odoi, Mawson; McDonald, Seri, Anguissa (Johansen 74); Schürrle (Chambers 87), Vietto (R. Sessegnon 74); Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Fabri, Christie, Bryan, Kamara.

BOOKED: Johansen, Mitrovic, Le Marchand.

GOALS: Schürrle (43), Mitrovic (62).

REFEREE: Lee Probert (South Gloucestershire).

ATTENDANCE: 30,526.

Cairney out ‘for a few weeks’

Fulham will have to do without captain Tom Cairney for ‘a few weeks‘, according to head coach Slavisa Jokanovic.

The 27 year-old midfielder, whose performances were so pivotal to the Whites’ promotion campaign in the second half of last season, sustained a foot injury during Fulham’s first Premier League win of the campaign last Sunday against Burnley. Jokanovic had hoped to have Cairney, who pulled out of the Scotland squad for next month’s international yesterday, available for Saturday’s trip to Brighton and Hove Albion but told his press conference today that the midfielder will be spending some time on the sidelines.

Tom Cairney is going to be unavailable for the Brighton game. He has a foot injury and we still need to assess him but it is our expectation that he will be unavailable for a few weeks. We must assess him, he is going to be out for a few weeks. Yes, this is a big loss for us.

Jokanovic also confirmed that winger Neeskens Kebano will be unavailable for around a month after suffering an ankle injury during the League Cup win over Exeter City on Tuesday night.