Mitrovic hat-trick floors Hatters

Aleksandar Mitrovic’s first Fulham hat-trick helped Fulham return to winning ways as they clinched a nervy victory over Luton Town in a five goal thriller at Craven Cottage tonight.

Mitrovic handed the Hatters a lesson in finishing to twice help the Whites establish a two-goal cushion – but Fulham’s defensive frailties, brutally exposed at Stoke on Saturday, resurfaced again as Graeme Jones’ side threatened to claim a battling point. The excellent Izzy Brown helped Luton gain a foothold in the second half and a glancing header from Dan Potts was followed by a close-range finish from substitute Kazenga Lua-Lua as the visitors made Scott Parker’s side sweat until the very end.

Parker made two changes after his 3-4-1-2 system slumped at Stoke, with Marek Rodak handed his league debut in goal and Denis Odoi returning at right back as Fulham switched to a back four. The hosts almost made the perfect start but James Shea saved well from Ivan Cavaleiro, but Luton were looking lively on the break. James Collins might feel he should have done better than fire wide after he had seized upon a poor pass from Tim Ream and latched onto Brown’s sumptuous through ball – and Luton were punished almost immediately.

Bobby Decordova-Reid intercepted a wayward pass from Matty Pearson and Cavaleiro drove towards the box before slipping a simple pass into the path of Mitrovic. The Serbian striker shrugged off the attentions of Sonny Bradley and smashed a venomous finish beyond Shea. The Luton keeper then did his best to keep Town in the contest saving bravely from Tom Cairney and Anthony Knockaert in quick succession – before an acrobatic overhead from Mitrovic drifted harmlessly over the bar.

Luton still threatened on the counter-attack with Brown and Collins causing real problems for the Fulham rearguard. The Chelsea loanee looked dangerous every time he ran at the Fulham defence and he delivered another excellent pass that allowed Collins to canter past Odoi only for the forward to lose his composure as he snatched at his shot.

Fulham finished the half strongly but couldn’t find a second. Knockaert curled fractionally wide when he cut inside onto his left foot before Cavaleiro fizzed an effort past the opposite corner and Mitrovic was inches away from connecting with a low cross from Joe Bryan after the full back had robbed James Bree of possession.

Luton emerged for the second half with a fiery team talk from Jones ringing in their ears. They might have been level straight away when Harry Cornick fired into the side netting after being released by Brown, who then saw a deflected shot pushed aside by Rodak. Their enterprising start deserved better than going further behind but Fulham doubled the lead from their first real attack of the second half.

Knockaert slipped a ball down the side of the Luton defence and Decordova-Reid raced beyond Potts before picking out Mitrovic with a low cross – giving the former Newcastle forward the simplest of finishes from close range. But the Hatters deserve immense credit for refusing to fold and they found a route back into the contest on the hour mark.

Brown floated a free-kick into the danger area and Potts ran across Ream to head home his first goal in more than a year. That briefly stunned the hosts but they summoned up a fine riposte seven minutes later when Mitrovic’s diving header from a cleverly worked free-kick between Cairney and Bryan took him to the top of the Championship scoring charts.

Fulham briefly threatened to make the scoreline look much more comfortable with Shea pushing away a powerful Cavaleiro drive, but they were left hanging on for the final minute of stoppage time after Luke Bolton got to the byline and delivered a low cross that Lua-Lua tapped in at the back post. That late setback proved only a consolation – but it was hard to avoid the feeling that Fulham, with all their attacking talent, had made this victory far too difficult for themselves.

FULHAM (4-3-3): Rodak; Odoi, Bryan, Mawson, Ream; Reed (McDonald 85), Decordova-Reid (Johansen 81), Cairney; Knockaert (Onomah 70), Cavaleiro, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, S. Sessegnon, Le Marchand, Kamara.

BOOKED: Cairney.

GOALS: Mitrovic (16, 53, 67).

LUTON TOWN (4-3-3): Shea; Bree (Bolton 70), Potts, Pearson, Bradley; Tunnicliffe, Cranie, Mpanzu; Cornick (Lua-Lua 78), Brown, Collins (McManaman 78). Subs (not used): Sluga, Shinnie, Jones, Butterfield.

GOALS: Potts (60), Lua-Lua (90+3).

REFEREE: John Brooks (Leicestershire).

ATTENDANCE: 18,082.

Steely Stoke punish Parker’s tactical gamble

Just what is it about Stoke City that scrambles the minds of Fulham managers? Five years ago, the Whites crashed out of the Premier League here after Felix Magath made the mystifying decision to play Dan Burn, a 6ft 5in centre half, at right back. This afternoon, Scott Parker selected Joe Bryan, a 5ft 7in left back, as one of three centre backs. Through no fault of his own one of Fulham’s most consistent performers of this campaign began a target for high balls pumped towards Lee Gregory – and the visitors, after making an encouraging start, never recovered once the striker’s flick on was seized upon by Tyrese Campbell to give the Potters the lead.

Parker’s decision to start with an adventurous 3-4-1-2 was undoubtedly influenced by Fulham’s second half display against Charlton before the international break, when he risked a bold tactical switch at half time as the hosts chased the game. Bryan filled as an emergency centre back there, but Charlton rarely pressed into defensive duties in the middle of the back three; the former Bristol City full back was far busier today. The change in system also allowed Parker to accommodate Bobby Decordova-Reid, who had starred off the bench against the Addicks, but the forward was anonymous this afternoon.

Fulham’s new system, which left them looking laborious and lethargic at times, also removed their natural width with notional wing-backs Anthony Knockaert and Ivan Cavaleiro looking lost when pushed high up the pitch to support an isolated Aleksandar Mitrovic as well as absent when it came to assisting an overworked back three. Harrison Reid and Harry Arter contrived to get in each other’s way in centre midfield, so all in all it was an inauspicious change that highlighted Parker’s inexperience as a manager.

It was a familiar story as Fulham enjoyed 78% of possession but struggled to create clear cut chances. The visitors began on the front foot, but went behind on the quarter hour mark from Stoke’s first attack. The simple nature of the goal will grate with Parker. A long kick from Adam Federeci allowed Gregory to climb above Bryan in the air and Campbell burst away from Tim Ream before finishing clinically across Marcus Bettinelli, who slipped just as the Stoke striker was about to pull the trigger.

Despite enjoying most of the ball, Fulham could easily have been three down at half time. Gregory was instrumental again in releasing Joe Allen behind the visitors’ defence but this time Bettinelli spread himself well to save the Welsh international’s curling effort. Teenager Campbell, the son of former Arsenal and Everton striker Kevin, might have grabbed a second on the half hour but an untimely slip allowed Bettinelli to block his shot before Alfie Mawson got in the way of the follow-up.

Fulham played plenty of pretty football in front of a well drilled Stoke defence but struggled for penetration. The equaliser they craved almost arrived five minutes before the break when Ivan Cavaleiro fizzed in a low cross from the right that deflected first off Sam Clucas and then Mitrovic before trickling wide of the far post.

The home side began the second half on the front foot and almost added a second instantly when Bettinelli had to improvise to save another effort from Allen with his feet, but the Potters were largely content to soak up waves of Fulham pressure and hit their opponents on the break. The superb Cameron Carter-Vickers, a rumoured Fulham transfer target in the summer, marshalled Mitrovic with a modicum of fuss and genuine chances remained at a premium.

Arter drew the first save of the match from Federeci when a dipping volley from 20 yards threatened the far corner, before some strong hold-up play from Mitrovic created the space for Cairney to curl one towards the far corner from just outside the box but the Fulham skipper’s shot was deflected just wide. Decordova-Reid drilled disappointingly wide from eleven yards and then an intricately worked free-kick saw Cairney’s tame shot easily fielded by Federeci.

Fulham ramped up the pressure but their final ball was too often lacking. When Cavaleiro did conjure up a dangerous delivery, Decordova-Reid headed straight at Federeci and the closest Fulham actually came to a goal was when Bryan, by now operating as a marauding creator, grazed the crossbar with a dipping drive.

Just as Parker’s men looked to pen Stoke back for a final push, the home side punished Fulham’s profligacy with a sucker punch. The tireless Gregory released substitute Scott Hogan behind the remnants of the Fulham defence with a perfectly weighted through ball and, as the former Brentford forward attempted to skip around Bettinelli, the Fulham keeper brought him down. Gregory sent him the wrong way from the spot to seal back-to-back wins for Stoke, who climb off the bottom of the Championship table.

Nathan Jones celebrated with all the relief of a man whose job has been on the line for much of the first two months of the season, but Stoke’s victory was made much simpler by Parker’s tinkering. Fulham can’t afford to hand over points so carelessly if they want to be in the promotion shake-up come the spring.

STOKE CITY (4-3-1-2): Federeci; Edwards, Martins Indi, Baath, Carter-Vickers; Allen, Ndiaye, Clucas (Lindsay 90); Etebo; Gregory (Vokes 90), Campbell (Hogan 76). Subs (not used): Butland, McClean, Ince, Duffy.

BOOKED: Ndiaye, Baath.

GOALS: Campbell (16), Gregory (pen 80).

FULHAM (3-4-1-2): Bettinelli; Mawson, Ream, Bryan; Knockaert (Kebano 83), Cavaleiro, Arter (Onomah 64), Reed; Decordova-Reid, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rodak, Christie, Odoi, Le Marchand, Kamara.

BOOKED: Mitrovic, Bettinelli.

REFEREE: Andy Davies (Hampshire).

ATTENDANCE: 23,189

Stoke Away Days

In recent history, Fulham generally haven’t had fun when we have travelled to Stoke. We have played away at the Britannia Stadium, or the Bet365 Stadium as it is now known, seven times since 2008, losing five times, drawing once and winning once. One of those defeats was a League Cup fixture while the rest were in the Premier League. During their Premier League tenure Stoke became a side who no one liked facing. Well-drilled and defensive, they caused one or two upsets as well as generally becoming a very difficult team to beat. Our sole victory there in recent times was thanks to some Bairdino magic back at Christmas of 2010. Two ridiculous strikes from the Northern Irishman inside the first 10minutes helped us to a 2-0 win. Wonderful scenes.

One of the worst days for me as a Fulham fan was when our thirteen year term in the Premier League came to an end after a pathetic 4-1 defeat to Stoke under Felix Magath. That day was nothing short of a Fulham calamity in the way we were set up and the way we played. Yes, relegation was looking likely anyway, but that performance pretty much summed us up under Magath. For that to be our last visit to Stoke, it’s understandable why so many of us have bad memories and a feeling of unease when we look ahead to tomorrow.

But we are in a new era at Fulham. Yes, last season was rocky, but Fulham under Scott Parker and the ownership of Shadid Khan are a different force. We still have issues to sort out defensively, but we are a side who could feasibly take points off anyone in the division. We still have maturing to do under Parker, but our side consists of the talent needed to get promoted again. However, tomorrow is also somewhat of a banana skin. Stoke have had a horrible season and sit bottom of the table. They have taken one measly point out of a possible 18 at home with Nathan Jones under a lot of pressure at the helm. But fitting nicely with the Championship’s unpredictability, they did beat then leaders Swansea City away from home last time out. Classic Championship.

We are currently unbeaten in six league games, but draws are becoming far too frequent. If we want to go up automatically, we need to put teams at the wrong end of the table to bed comfortably. If you have watched much of Stoke this season you will know that defensively they have been all over the place. Jack Butland in goal is an England International, but he has made mistakes time and time again. Confidence is low in the Stoke camp. We know what that is like after suffering so badly last season and we know that once the heads drop, it’s very hard to get anything from a game. That’s what we need to do to Stoke tomorrow, make their heads drop early on. The longer they feel like they are in the game, the harder it will be for us.

We know that you should never underestimate a team struggling at the bottom of the table, but we should be targeting 3 points tomorrow. We can’t afford to slip up against the bottom placed team.

#COYW

Fulham frustrated by crafty Charlton in derby draw

This was a strange – and gloriously gripping – game. Fulham would justifiably leave frustrated with a point – despite having come from behind twice – but Lee Bowyer’s Charlton, who are making a habit of surprising opponents on their return to the Championship, would have felt they were good value for the draw as well.

The Addicks certainly surprised Fulham with an adventurous approach from the off, setting Scott Parker’s side on the back foot without managing to carve out a clear opening. The Whites boss had made two changes from the midweek mauling of Reading at the Madjeski Stadium, but that seemed to stall the momentum gained from that performance. Steven Sessegnon returned at right back but his shaky performance underlined that, for all his undoubted promise, the teenager still has a lot to learn at this level.

Charlton may been without the services of striker Lyle Taylor, but they created the better chances after absorbing plenty of patient possession football from the hosts. Former Fulham midfielder Darren Pratley should have opened the scoring but could only direct his header straight at Marcus Bettinelli, who also thwarted the lively Jonny Williams after a swift Charlton counter.

Referee Keith Stroud waved away a strong penalty shout when Aleksandar Mitrovic looked to have been hauled down by Tom Lockyer and the Serbian striker then headed over the bar from being found by a beautiful chip from Stefan Johansen, but it was little surprise when the visitors got the goal their enterprise deserved four minutes before the break. Jake Forster-Caskey was given far too much time to cross from the left and Chris Solly leapt under little pressure to cushion the ball down for Conor Gallagher, whose low shot trickled under Bettinelli.

Parker made radical changes at half-time, hauling off Sessegnon and replacing an injured Harry Arter with the composed Harrison Reed as he went to an experimental back three. The tactical switch did the trick as Fulham looked much more threatening with Bobby Decordova-Reid offering support to a previously isolated Mitrovic. The on-loan Cardiff forward nearly made an immediate impact but drove wide from range, although an effort from distance did level matters ten minutes after the interval.

Decordova-Reid had a hand in the equaliser as well, as his precise pass allowed Ivan Cavaleiro to roam infield from the right and the Portuguese winger crashed an unstoppable effort past the otherwise impregnable Dillon Phillips from 20 yards. The relief around Craven Cottage was tangible, but Fulham’s fragility at the back soon set them back once again.

The home side had ample opportunities to clear their lines from a corner but couldn’t get out of the box and Macauley Bonne climbed above Alfie Mawson to loop a header over Bettinelli and restore Charlton’s advantage. That set the stage for a rip-roaring final half an hour as Fulham poured forward in search of an equaliser.

They rattled the woodwork three times in quick succession. The first was fortuitous as Joe Bryan’s overhit cross almost embarrassed Phillips, but Mitrovic perhaps should have done better than find the crossbar when found by low crosses from Knockaert and Johansen.  

The equaliser did arrive just after the hour mark as Mitrovic showed commendable quick thinking to scoop the ball over a grounded goalkeeper from close range after Phillips had pulled off another stunning save to keep Tom Cairney’s flying header. Charlton almost went straight up the other end and scored again, with Bettinelli producing an excellent stop of his own to deny substitute Jonathan Leko.

Fulham laid siege to the visitors’ goal in the final stages but couldn’t find a winner – even during seven minutes of second half stoppage time. Phillips was to the fore in Charlton’s resistance, whilst Lockyer and Jason Pearce fought a physical battle with Mitrovic that referee Stroud struggled to control. The goalkeeper made a string of fine saves, first positioning himself perfectly to pluck Decordova-Reid’s near post header out of the air and then turning aside the lively forward’s low shot after a dangerous one-two with Johansen.

The finest save of them all came right at the start of added time when he somehow denied Decordova-Reid, sliding in at the far post from three yards out, with the goal gaping. Fulham’s final opportunity was a central free-kick some 25 yards out that was mystifyingly curled over by Mawson when Cairney or Knockaert appeared far saner takers. Victory would have taken Fulham top, but Parker’s men will need to cut out the silly defensive mistakes if they are to threaten the automatic promotion places.

FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; S. Sessegnon (Decordova-Reid 45), Bryan, Mawson, Ream; Arter (Reed 45), Johansen (Onomah 87), Cairney; Knockaert, Cavaleiro, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rodak, Odoi, Le Marchand.

BOOKED: Bryan, Mitrovic.

CHARLTON ATHLETIC (3-5-1-1): Phillips; Lockyer, Pearce, Sarr; Solly, Forster-Caskey (Field 89), Cullen, Pratley, Gallagher; Williams (Leko 64); Bonne (Matthews 90). Subs (not used): Amos, Oshilaja, Oztumer, Lapslie.

BOOKED: Gallagher.

GOALS: Gallagher (41), Bonne (57).

REFEREE: Keith Stroud (Gloucestershire).

ATTENDANCE: 18,654

Fulham leave Parker purring

Scott Parker was left purring at Fulham’s quality after the Whites put ten man Reading to the sword at the Madjeski Stadium tonight.

Parker’s side moved to fourth in the table following their comprehensive win over the Royals, which was sealed by three goals in seventeen first half minutes. The Fulham boss was particularly pleased that the Whites managed to follow up Friday night’s win over Wigan Athletic with arguably a much more complete display.

He told his post-match press conference:

I’m delighted with the performance first and foremost. But I’ve been sat in this position probably over the last four or five weeks delighted with the performance. It’s just the result that’s been missing a little bit, in the sense of a sucker punch at Sheffield Wednesday, and West Brom as well where we dominated large parts.

But the last two matches the result has been there. I understand that that’s what everyone ultimately looks at, but tonight I thought we were first class from start to finish. First 30 minutes we were devastating, I thought. They had a man sent off but even prior to that I felt we really stamped our authority on the game and showed that quality.

I think when we play like we did first 30 minutes, we’re a team that’s going to be very hard to deal with. Even when they had 11 men it was difficult for them. We moved the ball very quickly, we moved it with an intensity, and we were clinical in the final third. We’ve worked a lot over the last few weeks on getting that cutting edge, and the efforts the boys have been putting in paid off tonight.

Parker was full of praise for striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, who grabbed a first-half brace to put the game well beyond Reading, and he believes the Serbian striker should be targeting the Championship golden boot.

He’s got a chance. Mitro needs to understand what his base is and what his platform is. His platform is a hard work ethic for the team. Out of possession he’s the one who sets it about, and I think if that’s his go-to every single game then I’ve no doubt opportunities will come and he’ll score goals. That’s a big challenge for Mitro. He’s a top forward who we’re absolutely buzzing to have at this football club, and he’ll be pivotal to what we do this year.

Flawless Fulham hit Reading for four

Tom Cairney curls home Fulham’s opener at the Madjeski Stadium

Fulham banished the bitter memories of their play-off heartache at Madjeski Stadium with a commanding victory over ten-man Reading in the Berkshire drizzle this evening. Scott Parker’s side were in control even before John Swift received his marching orders for a second vicious foul inside twenty minutes, with captain Tom Cairney curling home a majestic opener and Aleksandar Mitrovic’s quickfire brace effectively ending the contest before the half-hour mark.

Parker freshened up his side following Friday night’s win over Wigan Athletic, introducing Denis Odoi at right back, recalling Harry Arter into the heart of the Fulham midfield and handing Bobby Decordova-Reid a surprise start on the left wing. Reading boss Jose Gomes made the bold decision to try and match the visitiors’ 4-3-3 formation, but the hosts were just unable to cope with Fulham’s fluid football and intelligent movement. Gomes’ tactical gamble could have disastrous consequences as the Portuguese coach will now be feeling the heat after six games without a win.

In truth this looked like a mismatch from the off. Decordova-Reid served early notice of Fulham’s intentions by cutting in from the left and firing over the crossbar, but it was the athleticism of Joe Bryan from full back that prised open the home defence throughout the first period. Fresh from his first league goal for the Whites, Bryan burst along the flank and slipped a clever ball into the feet of Stefan Johansen, who squared it for his skipper and Cairney found the top corner effortlessly from the edge of the box.

Swift, who could have walked for an industrious tackle on Decordova-Reid, was shown a second yellow card when he went through the back of Odoi – and with the former Chelsea midfielder went any hope of the Royals’ getting anything from the game. Fulham quickly exploited their numerical advantage with Mitrovic demonstrating his poacher’s instincts twice in three minutes. He deftly diverted home a teasing cross from Anthony Knockaert to double Fulham’s lead and then slotted home his second after another surging Bryan run.

Reading were reduced to damage limitation long before the half-time whistle. Both George Puscas and Yakou Meite, who spurned a glorious chance after being sent through on goal by Josh Barrett, had threatened the Fulham goal before the visitors’ onslaught but the closest they came to an opening after that was an optimistic shout for handball against Tim Ream, which referee Andy Woolmer waved away.

Any suggestion that Fulham might ease off after the break with an eye on Saturday’s London derby against Charlton was swiftly dispelled with their first foray of the second half. A barnstorming run down the left from Mitrovic fashioned an opening for Knockaert but Rafael did well to dash from his line and narrow the angle before making an excellent reaction save. Puscas briefly roused the home fans from their seats with a defiant run down the right that drew a save from Marcus Bettinelli at his near post.

At the other end, Rafael then produced another fine stop this time pushing away a venomous strike from Alfie Mawson at a Fulham corner before Knockaert drove wide following a quick counter led by Cairney. Fulham’s fourth arrived courtesy of a calamity in the Reading defence, with Liam Moore’s lame backpass selling Rafael short. The keeper’s clearance was charged down by Mitrovic and Johansen laid it off Cairney, whose impudent chip from 30 yards rubbed more salt in Reading’s wounds.

It might have been even worse for Reading. Mitrovic, a potent threat all night, almost laid on a fifth for Decordova-Reid at the back post, but instead the home side claimed a consolation in the final minute when Meite found a yard of space outside the area to curl a beauty into the top corner. There was no closing the enormous gulf between these two sides, however, as Fulham recorded their first win at Reading in eleven years and climbed to fourth in the Championship table.

READING (4-3-3): Rafael; Yiadom, Richardson, Morrison; Moore; Rinomhota, Swift, Ejaria (Olise 79); Meite, Barrett (Boye 45), Puscas (Joao 70). Subs (not used): Walker, Miazga, McIntyre, Pele.

BOOKED: Swift, Moore.

SENT OFF: Swift (20).

GOAL: Meite (89).

FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; Odoi, Bryan (Le Marchand 75), Mawson, Ream; Arter, Johansen, Cairney (Kamara 72); Knockaert (Onamoh 69), Decordova-Reid, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rodak, S. Sessegnon, Reed, Cavaleiro.

GOALS: Cairney (13, 68), Mitrovic (26, 29).

REFEREE: Andy Woolmer (Northamptonshire).

ATTENDANCE: 13,809

Parker pleased to return to winning ways

Fulham manager Scott Parker admitted to a sense of relief after the Whites ended a five-match winless run by beating Wigan Athletic at Craven Cottage last night.

His side had to be patient, waiting until after half-time for the breakthrough against the Latics despite dominating the contest. Two fine strikes from Joe Bryan and skipper Tom Cairney sealed the victory and Parker feels that the result was crucial In getting Fulham back on track.

I think everyone was relieved. I was relieved on the side, along with the coaches. Certainly the players, and I think the fans were as well. I think over the last few weeks the results haven’t been there, but performances certainly have. We have probably played better over the course of the last few weeks and not got the results.

I think the result was key tonight obviously, and the second goal going in probably just took that edginess off us. And I understand that. We have been wounded over the last few weeks and when you have sucker punches like we have over the last few weeks it has an effect. And certainly it has had an effect on the players and it probably had an effect on the crowd at times. But the players were superb tonight and it’s a good result.

Every team that has come here has set their stall out and been very resilient in their work and been difficult to break down. We have worked all week on moving the ball and trying to get more balls into the box and keeping the tempo high. I felt we did that well tonight, against a good side.

In the last few weeks, we have gone 1-0 up and probably sat off it a little bit and given the team a bit more impetus to come at us and we have paid the price for that.

Bryan and Cairney put Fulham back on track

This was more like it. Fulham, without a win in more than a month, brushed aside what Scott Parker described as ‘a wounding few weeks’ and returned to winning ways as they eventually wore down Wigan at Craven Cottage tonight. They were forced to wait until deep into the second half to settle matters, however, after another sweet strike from skipper Tom Cairney followed Joe Bryan’s first league goal for Fulham and made sure of all three points.

It might seem absurdly early for managers to be under pressure, but there were a few whispers circulating about whether Parker, still at the start of his first full season in charge at Craven Cottage, had the nous to navigate his charges through a serious promotion push after Fulham had squandered winning positions against West Bromwich Albion and Sheffield Wednesday in recent weeks. The home side were dominant for most of this match as well, but proved ponderous in possession once again and had to wait until after half-time for the breakthrough. 

Wigan almost surprised their hosts inside the first three minutes when the lively Nathan Bryne sped down the right flank and slammed an audacious effort in at the near post that Marcus Bettinelli did well to keep out. That proved to be the Latics’ most potent threat of the first half – the spiky tackling of Sam Morsy, who was booked for a late challenge early on, aside. The Whites quickly applied pressure on the Wigan goal with Harrison Reed only denied by a brave block from Chey Dunkley. The experienced David Marshall fielded another speculative effort from the on-loan Southampton midifelder and then claimed a header from Aleksandar Mitrovic, who posed the Wigan defenders all sorts of problems from the off.

Marshall used all of his experience to rush from his line and narrow the angle to prevent Anthony Knockaert from opening the scoring after the winger had worked a lovely one-two with Cairney and a superb cross from the left presented Mitrovic with a glorious opportunity but the Serbian striker sent an effort fizzing agonisingly over the crossbar.

Somehow, the visitors got through to the interval unscathed but Paul Cook’s gameplan needed revising just two minutes in the second half. There was an element of fortune about the goal, as a Knockaert free-kick was only half cleared and Bryan’s first effort was blocked by a defender. He tried again with his weaker right foot and found the bottom corner to ease any nerves inside the Cottage.

To their immense credit, the visitors pushed men forward in search of an equaliser and the contest became a much more open one. Lee Evans shot just over the bar and had another effort gamely blocked by Cairney, who was eager to make amends after being robbed in the middle of the park. Fulham were also fortunate perhaps not to be reduced to ten men after the tigerish Reed sent Dunkley tumbling to the floor in the Fulham penalty area after the defender had felled Bettinelli at a corner. Reed was only shown a yellow card, as was Mitrovic after another flare up in the middle of the field.

Fulham almost added the crucial second just after the hour when a beautiful spin from the recalled Stefan Johansen set Cavaleiro haring down the middle of the pitch. The Portuguese winger released Bryan down the left and he released Knockaert into the penalty area, but Marshall did brilliantly to parry away the on-loan Brighton winger’s shot and the excellent Antonee Robinson did superbly to reach the rebound ahead of Cavaleiro and clear.

Wigan continued to threaten on the break themselves, forcing a succession of corners to hint at another late comeback, and the increasingly influential Evans almost curled an audacious leveller in from long range, but the visitors were eventually caught out by a goal of the highest quality. Knockaert carried the ball deep into Wigan territory and a tired defender stood off Cairney until it was too late, as the Fulham captain curled a majestic finish into the top corner from 25 yards.

Fulham were far from their fluent best, but Parker will have been pleased with the higher tempo of their passing in the final third in the second half. He will also have drawn great satisfaction from a clean sheet as the Cottagers’ climbed to seventh in the table ahead of a trip to Reading on Tuesday night. 

FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; S. Sessegnon, Bryan, Mawson, Ream; Reed, Johansen (Arter 80), Cairney; Knockaert (Onomah 87), Cavaleiro (Decordova-Reid 69), Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rodak, Le Marchand, Odoi, Kamara.

BOOKED: Reed, Mitrovic.

GOALS: Bryan (47), Cairney (83).

WIGAN ATHELTIC (4-2-3-1): Marshall; Byrne, Robinson, Dunkley, Mulgrew; Williams, Morsy; Lowe (Gelhardt 74), Jacobs (Naismith 45), Evans; Moore (Garner 69). Subs (not used): Jones, Fox, MacLeod, Massey.

BOOKED: Morsy, Dunkley, Williams.

REFEREE: Dean Whitestone (Northamptonshire).

ATTENDANCE: 18,253.

Thoughts on Marcus Bettinelli

Yesterday’s result was for me the most disappointing of the season. That might seem a strange thing to say given that West Brom are, on paper, the best team that we have played against this season and will undoubtably be fighting for promotion come May. But with how the game went, I can only come away frustrated and disappointed. We were in complete control of the game against a very strong side, but have handed the Baggies a draw away from home on a plate. We have to learn from this, and quick if we want to stay within touching distance of the teams at the top.

The big talking point coming away from yesterday’s game, is whether or not we need a change between the sticks. Marcus Bettinelli hasn’t helped his cause so far this season. He has always been a decent shot stopper, but isn’t great in other areas. His distribution has constantly been called into question, and he is now making mistakes far too often, costing the team points. But before we start calling for his head, we need to look at things close up, and then look at things in from a wider perspective.

Close up-

Well it doesn’t look great, does it? A good corner into the right area, but why is he flapping at that? And why is he trying to claim a foul when Austin did what every front man in world football will do at corners? He just wasn’t strong enough, and his reaction has only made it worse. He has now come out and accepted the blame, and fair play to him for that, but really the mistakes need to be cut out.

However, while Betts made the error, there are a couple of other factors involved in this particular occasion. Firstly, why on earth do we not have a man in between Austin and Betts? For me, that’s a huge error in judgement from our defensive coaches if it was supposed to be like that. Of course West Brom are going to put Austin in there trying to put the keeper off, so why was Ream, or anyone not there to give him some sort of cover? Also, Mawson can’t come away from that scot free. He was supposed to be on Semi Ajayi, but he has let him run off him so easily. For a big lad, he sometimes doesn’t use his strength. So, while Betts has made the biggest error of all in this situation, he certainly wasn’t helped by his defence.

Wider perspective –

A lot of people won’t like this, but I think there are a vocal section of fans who don’t help the situation. At Barnsley away I was a couple of rows from the front and Betts was having abuse hurled at him from the word go. His distribution from the start was at it’s usual level, but a number of fans were on his back in a pretty abusive way straight away. This isn’t helping. Now, I know we have all paid hard earned cash to follow the team up and down the country so therefore have the right to express opinions, but for me there is a huge difference between that and just hurling abuse non-stop. If you honestly think that will encourage our players to up their game then you are mistaken. All it does is make the burden heavier and heavier, until someone will turn around and shout back, which is what I hear may have happened yesterday, although I can’t confirm that this. Another example is Cyrus Christie. When he came on against Nottingham Forest a few weeks ago we had some numpties booing him straight away. The guy looked terrified every time he got near the ball, and unfortunately as a fan base WE have to take some of the blame for that. It’s embarrassing.

I have no idea who we will start in goal against Sheffield Wednesday, but I do think that Rodak must be in with a chance. If Rodak does get the nod, then it should spur Betts on to up his game. Competition in that area of the pitch is important. But for us as fans, maybe it’s time to have a think about how we respond to whoever is on the pitch.

#COYW

Bettinelli blunder costs Fulham dear

A terrible goalkeeping error from Marcus Bettinelli cost Fulham the chance of ending West Brom’s unbeaten start to the season as Scott Parker’s side had to settle for a point having dominated the Championship’s early kick off this afternoon.

Bettinelli, who was furious at the award of the goal having felt he had been impeded by Charlie Austin as he tried to reach Matheus Pereira’s corner, only managed the tamest of contacts and allowed Semi Ajayi to head home the simplest of equalisers. The tall centre back was delighted to score his first goal for West Bromwich Albion, who were rewarded with a point for their late pressure on the Fulham goal.

The home side looked likely winners once Anthony Knockaert chipped Sam Johnstone from a tight angle outside the penalty area four minutes after half-time, although the on-loan winger later confessed that he was trying to find a team-mate at the far post. The goal was fitting reward for Fulham’s first-half dominance, but it would have worried Parker that his side are still labouring fruitlessly in front of goal despite enjoying so much possession.

Slaven Bilic’s side were disciplined in defence and set up to try and frustrate Fulham but the home side still fashioned a number of chances as they probed away patiently. Ivan Cavaleiro, who endured a frustrating afternoon out wide as he struggled to find a final ball, had a couple of early shots blocked and then an outstanding tackle from Nathan Ferguson denied Bobby Decordova-Reid as he prepared to pull the trigger.

Fulham should have taken the lead midway through the first half when a brilliant bit of vision by Harrison Reed freed Tom Cairney in behind the Baggies defence. The Fulham skipper opted to go high as he bore down on Sam Johnstone but the West Brom goalkeeper managed to tip his finish onto the bar. The former Aston Villa custodian then produced a couple of excellent reaction saves to deny Knockaert and Decordova-Reid in quick succession.

The pattern persisted into the second period, with a desperate lunge from Ajayi almost ending up in his own net as he tried to deal with a dangerous cross from Joe Bryan. Johnstone gathered a downward header from Mitrovic from a set play but Knockaert’s opportunistic finish appeared to set Fulham on the way towards three points – although Parker’s side failed to find the killer instinct.

The expected surge of Fulham pressure never really materialised with Johnstone turning over a Decordova-Reid shot on the turn and a long-range effort by Bryan was deflected wide. Instead, Albion were rejuvenated by Bilic’s double change midway through the second half when he threw on Kyle Edwards and Filip Krovinovic to inject some life into their attack.

Darnell Furlong flashed a drive into the side netting, but Fulham failed to heed the warning and retreated deeper and deeper. Ajayi nodded in the equaliser and the Baggies might well have nicked a winner as well when Furlong headed agonisingly wide from another Pereira corner. Fulham will need to be much more assertive if they have serious ambitions of joining the automatic promotion race.

FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; S. Sessegnon (Odoi 90), Bryan, Mawson, Ream; Reed, Decordova-Reid (Onomah 85), Cairney; Knockaert, Cavaleiro, Mitrovic. Subs (not used); Rodak, Le Marchand, McDonald, Johansen, Kamara.

BOOKED: S. Sessegnon, Odoi.

GOAL: Knockaert (49).

WEST BROMWICH ALBION (4-2-3-1): Johnstone; Furlong, Ajayi, Bartley, Ferguson; Livermore (Krovinovic 59), Sawyers; Phillips (Edwards 59), Pereira, Diangana (Robson-Kanu 69); Austin. Subs (not used): Bond, O’Shea, Brunt, Zohore.

BOOKED: Furlong.

GOAL: Ajayi (80).

REFEREE: David Webb (Lancashire).

ATTENDANCE: 17,770.