Mitrovic revels in ‘magical night’

Aleksandar Mitrovic revelled in what he described as ‘a magical night’ at Craven Cottage after Fulham roared back from two goals down to breeze past Brighton and Hove Albion last night.

The Cottagers breathed new life into their battle against the drop with a storming second half display that stood in stark contrast to their abysmal first half showing. Mitrovic scored two goals and came out on top in a real battle with Brighton’s two centre backs, Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy, after a display of classical centre forward play.

The Serbian striker told Fulham’s official website that he relished the physical battle with the Brighton centre halves:

They are tough, tough guys, really strong, tall guys, like every Premier League defender.

I enjoy competing with different defenders every week, and against Brighton I scored two goals.

I had good service second half and we played unbelievably. We got four goals, and could have scored a few more, so it really was an unbelievable night. After a very bad first half, we tried to give everything second half. We wanted to go out and do everything we could.

We scored nice and early with the first goal, then the second goal, third goal, and the fourth goal finished the game. We didn’t concede any goals at the end.

It was really a joy to play in, and the fans were unbelievable. They believed as well, like we believed, and it was a magical night, and hopefully there are more wins to come.

It was a big game, a big three points. We had an unbelievable second half. We believed, and we fought until the end, and I think we deserved this.

Cairney eyes another ‘great escape’

Tom Cairney says last night’s stirring fightback against Brighton and Hove Albion shows that Fulham can pull off another ‘great escape’ and stay in the Premier League.

The Cottagers are still five points from safety, but Cairney feels that coming back from two goals down to record their first win in a month has boosted morale around the club. The Scottish international, who was introduced as an early substitute after Glenn Murphy’s double inside the first twenty minutes, also believes that passing football is the way to get Fulham out of trouble.

Look, we have got players to play football. I just feel like we have got to pass the ball. I think that is what we did in the second-half. That is what I came on and tried to do to the team. I mean it is tough, we can’t really outfight teams.

We aren’t big enough, we aren’t strong enough. But we have got good footballers in the team with Ryan Babel coming in, Jean-Michael Seri who can play football, myself. With Aleksandar Mitrovic up top, we have always got a chance to score. That is our best way; playing to feet.

I think that is the only way we can do it. We tried to fight, we tried to scrap a little bit, go a bit more direct. But I think we have our most success and look most dangerous when we play football.

Obviously it is still going to be the great escape if we get out of the situation we are in. I think to have any chance we have got to go back-to-back wins for the first time.

Ranieri salutes Fulham’s ‘fighting spirit’

Claudio Ranieri hailed Fulham’s fighting spirit after the Whites roared back from two goals down to beat Brighton and Hove Albion and breathe new life into their battle against the drop.

Fulham found themselves 2-0 down to a pair of Glenn Murray goals inside seven minutes and Ranieri was forced to abandon his back five by introducing Tom Cairney from the bench with less than half an hour played. The Italian replaced Andre Schurrle with Luciano Vietto at half-time and the impact was immediate with goals from Calum Chambers, a brace from Aleksandar Mitrovic and Vietto’s first Fulham goal securing a priceless win.

Ranieri told his post-match press conference:

“It was a very strange match. After 17 minutes we were down 2-0 and at that moment I said to myself it is much better to concede now rather than at the end, where you don’t have time to react.

It was good because we reacted immediately, even in the first half despite not scoring a goal. The Chambers goal was very important as it gave all the other players more confidence, which allowed them to think we can win tonight. We deserved to win and we played very good football. Tonight we provided Mitrovi? with good crosses, and with crosses Mitrovi? is a very dangerous player. Calum’s goal was also very good as we had very good build-up play leading up to it.

At half-time I gave my players positivity and let them know that we are still in the match. We had to move the ball very quickly and try and find a solution to break the lines with Mitrovi?, Cairney, Vietto and Babel. Babel gave us some experience and leadership, every time he received the ball he was very calm and did something good for the team, the other players also followed him.

These three points mean that we are alive, we can see a little light but it is only a little step forwards. I want to keep seeing this fighting spirit shown this evening.For us every match is tough but they are crucial because we are in the relegation zone. We are confident – this match and result tonight was very important for us. We believe always but tomorrow we have to restart because we have another tough match ahead of us on Saturday.

Mitrovic’s brace breaks Brighton

In September surrendered a two-goal lead at Brighton and Slavisa Jokanovic’s side never rediscovered the swashbuckling football that had characterised their rise to the Premier League. Tonight, at Craven Cottage, in a strange reversal of that glorious sunkissed afternoon at the AMEX Stadium, Claudio Ranieri’s men breathed some life into their stagnant relegation battle by storming back from a two-goal deficit. The villain on the south coast Aleksandar Mitrovic, who conceded a late penalty that day, was the hero tonight – proving pretty much unplayable as Fulham scored four goals without reply whilst playing a brand of football that would have had Jokanovic purring.

The transformation from a ragged side that seemed resigned to relegation at half-time was quite something. Fulham were fitful in the first half and Albion appeared likely to score every time they mounted an attack down the right flank. Chris Hughton’s side went ahead with their first serious attack in the third minute. Martin Montoya, a summer transfer target for the Whites, was afforded far too much time to advance into a dangerous position and whip over a dangerous cross for the seasoned poacher Glenn Murray, who stole ahead of Maxime Le Marchand and steered a fine finish into the far corner.

The veteran’s instinctive finishing doubled Brighton’s lead after seventeen minutes. The goal was unorthodox in its creation with Pascal Gross’s ambitious overhead kick causing consternation in the Fulham back line – Murray was the quickest to react and flicked another impudent finish past the helpless Sergio Rico. The 35 year-old hadn’t scored in eight league games prior to his visit to west London and should have had a hat-trick before the interval. He snuck clear of Denis Odoi but headed the wrong side of the far post. Rico was totally beaten by a thumping drive from Davy Propper that rattled the crossbar – and Fulham, whose only serious openings fell to the lively Ryan Babel and the otherwise anonymous Andre Schurrle, were unsurprisingly booed off at half-time.

The home side’s lethargy had forced Ranieri into an early reshuffle as he introduced Tom Cairney in place of Ream with just 26 minutes on the clock and the Scottish playmaker at least established a foothold in the contest for Fulham. Luciano Vietto came on for Schurrle at the back and produced his liveliest display of the season, roaming infield from the left wing to great effect. You felt an early goal was necessary and it arrived from the unlikeliest of sources when Calum Chambers, outstanding again in the holding midfield role he has made his own, displayed magnificent technique to fire an unstoppable effort into the top corner from 20 yards after Mitrovic’s knock-down.

That goal galvanised Fulham. The Hammersmith End’s boos had now turned to exhortations of encouragement. Against all the odds, Ranieri’s men pulled themselves level just before the hour mark. A corner sparked pinball in the Brighton box and the ball was only half-cleared. The impressive Babel whipped over another dangerous ball and Mitrovic fought off the attentions of two Brighton defenders to reach the ball before Mat Ryan and head into the net. Pandemonium ensued in the stands.

The gravity of Fulham’s situation meant a draw would change little. They had to go for the win and, in doing so, left themselves open at the back. Rico made a splendid reaction save when Murray seemed certain to score from another Montoya cross and the white shirts continued to pour forward. A wonderful move that saw Babel and Vietto link intelligently culminated in Jean-Michael Seri, who probably had his best game into a Fulham shirt, striking the base of the near post with a low drive from the edge of the box.

Fulham kept on asking questions of a creaking Brighton defence and finally Joe Bryan, who looks far more comfortable going forward than defensively, prized it open with a wonderful goal. Mitrovic outjumped Lewis Dunk and planted a header beyond the despairing Ryan to complete the most incredulous of turnarounds. Given how porous their defence has been for most of the season, Fulham weren’t about to sit on their slender lead. Cairney was denied a deserved goal when his lovely curler came back off the crossbar but Babel was alive to the rebound prodding back into the danger area, where Vietto guided home his first Fulham goal to give Ranieri’s men a bit of breathing space.

A guttural roar enveloped Craven Cottage. They might have had a fifth, with Cairney again denied by the crossbar as he sought to bend home a finish after Mitrovic and Babel had pulled the Brighton defence from pillar to post. The effervescence with which Fulham finished the game suggests that they have both the spirit and the quality to make a decent fist of their survival bid but Ranieri will know they need to back up these three points with another strong showing at Crystal Palace on Saturday.

FULHAM (3-4-3): Rico; Odoi, Le Marchand, Ream (Cairney 26); Christie, Bryan (R. Sessegnon 77), Chambers, Seri; Schurrle (Vietto 45), Babel, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Cisse, Kebano, Ayite.

BOOKED: Seri, Babel.

GOALS: Chambers (47), Mitrovic (58, 74), Vietto (79).

BRIGHTON AND HOVE ALBION (4-3-3): Ryan; Montoya, Bong, Duffy, Dunk; Groß (Andone 77), Stephens, Propper; March, Locardia (Knockaert 71), Murray. Subs (not used): Button, Bruno, Burn, Kayal, Bissouma.

BOOKED: Stephens, Duffy, Dunk.

GOALS: Murray (3, 17).

REFEREE: Lee Probert (South Gloucestershire).


Winks shatters Fulham hearts

This match felt like a microcosm of Fulham’s miserable season. The Whites began with pace and purpose, taking the attack to a weakened Tottenham side with new signing Ryan Babel to the fore. They enjoyed a stroke of good fortune, taking the lead through Fernando Llorente’s own goal, and should probably have extended their lead during a concerted spell of first-half pressure. That failure eventually cost them as Dele Alli equalised with a far-post header, but the knockout blow arrived with 15 seconds of injury time remaining, when Harry Winks arrived to nod home a delicious cross from Georges-Kévin Nkoudou to steal all three points.

This setback, coupled with Fulham’s defeat at Burnley last weekend, feels terminal – even though there is plenty of football to play. Claudio Ranieri won’t countenance such talk, but the psychological impact of another damaging loss was etched all over distraught Fulham faces at the death. Seven points behind fourth-from-bottom Newcastle and, with a horrendous March of fixtures to become, Ranieri’s men need something to change and fast.

The Whites were workmanlike rather than wondrous, but their high-octane start certainly unsettled Spurs. Babel, who arrived earlier this week on a six-month loan deal from Besiktas, caught the eye from the outset and not just for his shock of red hair. The former Liverpool winger offered pace and power from a wide left position, immediately worrying the Tottenham back line. He linked well with Mitrovic and burst away from a ponderous Davinson Sanchez before drawing an excellent reaction save from Hugo Lloris.

Fulham proved unusually threatening from set-plays with Jean-Michael Seri’s swerving deliveries posing all sorts of problems for the Spurs defence. With the visitors preoccupied by Aleksandar Mitrovic, the hosts took the lead after a corner narrowly eluded Tim Ream’s near-post run and ricocheted in off the unfortunate Llorente, who endured another trying afternoon. The tall Spaniard should have made amends with a header from Jan Vertonghen’s floated cross, but Sergio Rico parried a poor header and Denis Odoi thumped the rebound to safety.

Babel spurned a couple of good chances to extend Fulham’s lead, heading narrowly over the bar after an electric run and cross from Cyrus Christie down the right. The Dutch international was then denied by a superb saving tackle from Vertonghen after an outrageous backheel from the energetic Calum Chambers. The home side had a second chalked off for offside when Lloris brilliantly parried an Andre Schurrle volley and Mitrovic was flagged as he forced home the follow-up.

Fulham were far more passive in the second half and were pushed deeper and deeper as Spurs controlled possession. Alli appeared to have more license to roam after the break and the England midfielder punished some more sloppy defending by poaching an equaliser six minutes into the second period. Tim Ream horribly scuffed an attempt to clear his lines and the ball dropped invitingly for Christian Eriksen, whose floated ball in was perfect for Alli to head home.

It seemed for a while as though the equaliser might open the floodgates. The visitors did begin to lay siege to the Fulham goal and Ranieri’s men were indebted to an excellent challenge from Maxime Le Marchand as Eriksen drove an effort goalwards, but aside from a rasping drive from Danny Rose that rattled the crossbar, Fulham were untroubled. Tottenham struggled to create a clear opening right until the death, although the introduction of Ibrahima Cisse with ten minutes to go – perhaps a puzzling choice with Tom Cairney kicking his heels on the touchline – only invited further pressure.

It looked as Fulham would be able to collect a precious point, but they reckoned without Tottenham’s late show. The home side eschewed opportunities to run the clock with Sergio Rico punting the ball downfield in the direction of a shattered Mitrovic – and were punished for their naivete. Nkoudou, who had been expected to leave Spurs during this month’s transfer window, delivered the type of teasing cross that Tottenham had lacked for so long and Winks got goalside of Joe Bryan to direct his header home and spark joyous celebrations in the Putney End.

FULHAM (3-4-3): Rico; Odoi, Le Marchand, Ream; Christie, Bryan, Chambers, Seri (Cisse 81); Schurrle (Kebano 72), Babel (R. Sessegnon 55), Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Cairney, Ayite, Vietto.

BOOKED: Mitrovic, Seri.

GOAL: Llorente (o.g. 17).

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR (3-4-2-1): Lloris; Alderweireld, Sánchez, Vertonghen; Trippier, Rose, Eriksen, Winks; Lamela (Dier 79), Alli (Nkoudou 86); Llorente. Subs (not used): Gazzaniga, Foyth, Davies, Skipp, Sterling.

BOOKED: Sanchez, Rose, Alderweireld.

GOALS: Alli (51), Winks (90+3).

REFEREE: Craig Pawson (Sheffield).