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Sublime Seri pulls the strings

It was understandable that Aleksandar Mitrovic hogged the headlines this morning after his brace broke the back of QPR’s resistance and decisively turned the west London derby Fulham’s way. The Serbian striker’s looping header in the second half was a thing of beauty and probably proved the pivotal moment at a point when the visitors had inched their way back into the contest and were arguably on top. We all know about Mitrovic’s remarkable Championship scoring record and he is well established as Fulham’s talisman, but the sight of Jean Michael Seri running the show from central midfield still seems remarkable.

To describe the Ivorian’s previous three years with Fulham as undistinguished would probably win the award of the understatement of the year. For two of those seasons, a player the Whites parted with at least £22m to sign was not even at the club – farmed out on loan to Galatasaray and Bordeaux in the aftermath of a horrible first term in English football where Fulham, despite three changes in management, proved woefully ill-equipped to survive in the top flight. Seri seemed surplus to requirements this summer, too, with a permanent exit on the cards until new boss Marco Silva, a long time admirer from the playmaker’s days in Portugal with Paços de Ferreira, restored him to the Fulham midfield.

Seri’s transformation from costly folly to the crucial cog in the club’s engine room must rank as one of the most unlikely redemption stories in Fulham’s history. He seems ideally suited to Silva’s method of winning promotion back to the Premier League, with the pragmatism of Scott Parker decisively ditched for a far more cavalier way of playing football. I’ve previously voiced my concerns about Seri being used in a deep-lying role at the base of the midfield but it worked wonderfully against a Rangers midfield that struggled to nullify Fulham’s patient passing, with his experience and mobility allowing him to dictate proceedings behind the industry of Harrison Reed.

The 30 year-old played a crucial part in the opening goal delivering a trademark switch of play to release Neeskens Kebano into the space down the right with a raking ball from the middle of the field. There were plenty of more precise passes, too – ten in total into the final third – and, in a underappreciated addition to his game this season, Seri isn’t afraid to do his share of the dirty work. He won possession back six times in the QPR half as Fulham played with an intensity befitting this local derby. To underline Seri’s importance, he played the most passes of any Fulham player – 76 – whilst also receiving the highest number (51).

His most perceptive pass was the one that finally broke Rangers, just four minutes after Mitrovic had restored the hosts lead. A patient passage of passing was suddenly injected with a forward thrust when Bobby Decordova-Reid, switched to the number ten role in the aftermath of Lyndon Dykes’ equaliser, prodded a pass back towards the halfway line for Seri. He took it calmly in his stride, watched Decordova-Reid accelerate into space between the QPR defence, and stroked a glorious ball through the middle of the park. So perfectly weighted was the pass that Decordova-Reid hardly had to break stride as he advanced on Seny Dieng’s goal and his measured finish put the game beyond the visitors.

From being on the cusp of a permanent departure from the Cottage, Seri’s importance to Fulham’s fortunes is suddenly undeniable. Just as importantly, he has a smile on his face and is enjoying his football – after a chastening start to his time in England. His gleeful embrace of Decordova-Reid in the goal celebrations showed that as did the way he applauded the Hammersmith End for serenading him as he prepared to take a late corner. As the song suggests, Marco Silva’s man is finally making his mark.

Kebano beams after ‘brilliant’ Fulham display

Fulham winger Neeskens Kebano paid tribute to ‘brilliant work’ from his team mates after the Whites demolished QPR 4-1 at Craven Cottage this afternoon.

Kebano had a hand in two of the goals – running in behind the Rangers defence to tee up Denis Odoi for the cross that led to the opener – and supplying a superb ball of his own for Aleksandar Mitrovic’s second that put Fulham back in front. The Congolese international couldn’t hide his delight when he spoke to FFCTV after the final whistle:

“It was a good day at the office. Brilliant work from all of my team mates and we got a very good result so we’re happy. We’ve been discussing a lot with Mitro to adjust our crosses. We know exactly where he would prefer that ball so I just tried to target that space, he was there like he said and he scored. Nine times out of ten he scores.

When we see what happened in the previous game against Coventry, today it was forbidden for us to repeat the same mistake. We kept our heads up and tried to force things and give us more fresh air.”

Mitrovic revels in derby day joy

Aleskandar Mitrovic was delighted after his brace helped Fulham put four past QPR in the west London derby this afternoon.

The Serbian striker took his Championship tally to twelve goals in as many games this season with two sublimely-taken goals as Marco Silva’s side weathered a tricky period in the second half to return to winning ways at Craven Cottage.

Mitrovic was in no doubt as to the importance of three points, telling FFCTV after the final whistle:

“It’s a good feeling. This was a big win, a London derby, a great result for us and a great response. We could have scored a couple more but I think we deserved the three points, we were the better team and we will focus on the next one on Wednesday.

The Fulham number nine heaped praise on Marco Silva for tweaking his game and making him the focal point of Fulham’s attack after a frustrating season last year.

“I feel good. I feel very good on the pitch. For a striker, it is the most important thing to have confidence. At the moment, I have loads of confidence and trying to do my job as best as I can. Hopefully I can continue this form. I have improved my game a lot under Marco. He made me realise I can be used in different ways. He trusts me, I feel great in his team and the way we play.”

Mitrovic was particularly pleased with the way the Whites responded to Lyndon Dykes’ second half equaliser – quickly finding another goal and going on to put the game to bed, which hasn’t always been the case in the past month,.

“Our response was good. We managed the game really well. After the second goal, we scored the third and fourth really fast. We didn’t sit deep, wait for them to attack and wait for the counter attack we went forward to score more goals. At the end, I think we deserved this win. They are a good team, they have quality players. It was not an easy game – we managed to score four goals to win this game.”

He knows that the Championship is a gruelling league and won’t be getting carried away with this success.

“There is not much time to celebrate when you win, there is not much time to cry when you lose. There is another game in a few days. It is a big game against a good side, Cardiff. There are no easy games in the Championship. We have to be ready to fight and we have to keep going together. It is still early in the season – there are plenty of points to play for, we must keep going forward, keep positive and onto the next one.”

Silva salutes Fulham’s response to adversity

Marco Silva was delighted that Fulham recovered from conceding a second half equaliser to go on and convincingly win the West London derby at Craven Cottage this afternoon.

QPR substitute Lyndon Dykes cancelled out Aleksandar Mitrovic’s opener within nine minutes of coming on at half time, but Fulham produced the perfect response to ruthlessly dispatch their local rivals – with Mitrovic, Decordova-Reid and Antonee Robinson adding further goals as the Whites romped to a 4-1 win.

Silva told his post-match press conference that he was pleased with Fulham’s reaction following a disappointing defeat in similar circumstances at Coventry City a fortnight ago.

“An important result for us. The way we are winning it is important as well, pleased to see a good reaction from ourselves. We spoke the last few days when I had all the squad together about what happened about the last game, how we should and must react about the adversity that can happen in a game.

I had short conversation with them at the end of the match, congratulations for the result, commitment, attitude. Ok this is what we should do when something goes wrong, adversity, mistakes from ourselves, or someone else, because against Coventry it was ourselves and the referee which changed completely the direction of the game with that penalty.

But we should react in a different way, and we did this afternoon, and I was pleased to see it. Going home with that good feeling of winning a derby for our fans as well, pleased to see the smiles on their faces at the end of the match.”

Silva also felt that a tactical switch, moving Bobby Decordova-Reid into the number ten role after QPR’s equaliser, held the key to tilting what had become a tight contest Fulham’s way.

“We changed the position of Harry and Bobby at 1-1, we tried to put Harry wide and Bobby inside to improve our first pressure. It wasn’t good in that first moment but straight away we pressed higher and better as well. We found the right moments to cause them problems.”

Mitrovic double demolishes QPR

In this sort of mood, Aleksandar Mitrovic is unplayable. The imposing Serbian centre forward delivered a display of classical hold up play and penalty area ruthlessness to take this lunchtime’s west London derby decisively away from Queens Park Rangers, just when Mark Warburton’s men appeared poised to profit from further Fulham complacency. The Whites, who looked so formidable in August, had been punished for taking their foot off the gas at Coventry before the international break and, after substitute Lyndon Dykes had cancelled out Mitrovic’s thumping opener, more frustration seemed in store for Marco Silva’s side. But Mitrovic restored Fulham’s advantage with a superb header – and the hosts ended up romping away from their local rivals.

The number nine was critical to both of Fulham’s previous promotions from the Championship – providing the missing link for Slavisa Jokanovic’s side when joining on loan from Newcastle and becoming a regular source of goals under Scott Parker. His absence from Parker’s struggling team last season might have brought the curtain down on his Craven Cottage career but Silva’s return to English football and the adoption of an adventurous approach to an immediate return to the top flight has seen the side constructed around Mitrovic’s considerable talents. With Jean-Michael Seri imperious in the engine room and Tom Cairney fit enough to be named amongst the substitutes, things are looking up at London’s oldest professional football club.

Fulham made a bright start to what felt like a crucial derby, pinging passes through the midfield and penning Rangers back. Mitrovic opened the scoring after ten minutes with a goal that showcased all of his ability. Seri, who sparkled throughout from his deep-lying playmaker position, began a flowing move with a glorious switch of play out to Neeskens Kebano on the right. Denis Odoi galloped forward from full back and delivered a deep cross to the back post. Mitrovic held off Rob Dickie easily to bring the ball under spell and rifled a low drive between Seny Dieng and the near post.

The hosts might have had further goals before the break. Dieng did brilliantly to deny Mitrovic twice in quick succession from Harry Wilson’s corner, before Dickie denied the former Newcastle forward an almost certain second with a saving challenge after a superb run down the right flank from the Welsh winger. Rangers offered little as an attacking force, with Charlie Austin blazing over from the edge of the area, but can within a whisker of equalising just before the equaliser when Chris Willock clipped the outside of the far post after being brilliantly picked out by Moses Odubajo.

Fulham made a fast start to the second period, but Dieng did well to spread himself and deny Kebano after the winger had raced onto a lovely through ball from Harrison Reed and Rangers, who had more firepower up front after Dykes had replaced Dominic Ball during the interval, found an equaliser nine minutes after half time. Odoi criminally surrendered possession, giving Willock time and space to run at the Fulham defence and the former Arsenal midfielder threaded a through ball between the hosts’ retreating centre halves. Dykes darted around the stranded Marek Rodak and lifted in the equaliser that suddenly had the game in the balance.

Silva, who had already lost Ivan Cavaleiro to injury in the first half, was forced into another alteration in the aftermath of the goal as Joe Bryan had collided painfully with both the post and Tim Ream in a desperate attempt to block Dykes’ finish. Fulham had wilted alarmingly from a similar position at Coventry a fortnight ago, but Harrison Reed was determined to drag his team-mates forward. He clapped his hands and bellowed encouragement after the Rangers equaliser and took matters into his own hands shortly afterwards, surging into a shooting position some 35 yards from goal and his low shot was narrowly off target.

Antonee Robinson seized the opportunity to impress after replacing Bryan and raced down the left flank to add impetus to another Fulham attack. The American international released the ball intelligently for Kebano, who checked onto his right foot and floated a delicious ball for Mitrovic to attack. The Serbian cleverly manoeuvred Jordy de Wijs out of the way with his arm before brilliantly looping a header over Dieng and into the net via the far post. It took just four minutes for Fulham to find breathing space when a sumptuous pass from Seri released Bobby Decordova-Reid, whose accurate finish across Dieng made it three.

The Rangers goalkeeper saved well from Kebano, whose lively display down the left probably merited a goal of his own, but had no such luck in injury time when Robinson’s speculative strike from long range took a hefty deflection off de Wijs, leaving him completely stranded. Fulham’s strong finish looked unlikely after Dykes’ leveller, but was a welcome reward for a much-needed display of the sort of character necessary to tackle the unpredictability of the Championship.

FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Odoi, Bryan (Robinson 58), Adarabioyo, Ream; Reed, Seri; Kebano, Cavaleiro (Decordova-Reid 32), Wilson (Chalobah 77); Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Gazzaniga, Mawson, Cairney, Muniz.

GOALS: Mitrovic (10, 67), Decordova-Reid (71), Robinson (90+1).

QUEENS PARK RANGERS (3-4-2-1): Dieng; Dickie, de Wijs, Barbet; Odubajo, McCallum (Dunne 66), Ball (Dykes 45), Johansen; Willock, Chair; Austin (Gray 69). Subs (not used): Archer, Amos, Adomah.

BOOKED: Ball, Johansen, Odubajo, Dunne.

GOAL: Dykes (54).

REFEREE: Oliver Langford (West Midlands).