Fulham 2-1 Sunderland Six Things: Mitrovic strikes late

Aleksandar Mitrovic now has 12 goals for Fulham – ibtimes.co.uk

The bookies made promotion-chasing Fulham bigger pre-match favourites than there has been for any Championship match in three years for Friday night’s clash with already-relegated Sunderland, but it wasn’t the Whites-wash many expected: Slavisa Jokanovic’s side needed a late strike from Aleksander Mitrovic to pick up their crucial 2-1 win. Here’s six things from the game.

An early twist

As inventive as Fulham centre-back Denis Odoi can be in possession, winning aerial duels isn’t his forte. Ashley Fletcher cottoned onto that and stayed next to the centre-back, which proved key to the opening goal. Fletcher’s athleticism allowed him to flick a long ball on for Joel Asoro, who turned Matt Targett before slotting into the far corner.

Feed Fredericks, Fulham!

Returning to Craven Cottage, Chris Coleman favoured a narrow midfield to stop Tom Cairney and Stefan Johansen getting through the middle; that aspect of his plan was successful. The Welshman though sacrificed cover for left-back Marc Wilson, who was at times isolated one-on-one against rampaging right-back Ryan Fredericks and that was how the hosts equalized. After a spell of pressure from the Black Cats, which could have resulted in a penalty for Tim Ream’s alleged trip on Ovie Ejaria, the hosts played through the press with typical expertise, allowing Fredericks to square for Lucas Piazon to slot home.

Unbelievable Kamara

Piazon had switched to the left after Ryan Sessegnon moved deeper to fill in for the injured Targett, with Aboubakar Kamara coming in on the right. The latter, who turned Lamine Kone to force a tight-angled save from Jason Steele on 51 minutes, injected extra pace and power into Fulham’s right-sided play. Sunderland midfielders such as Ejaria and Ethan Robson were thus more drawn to the right channel, which opened space for midfielders such as Cairney and McDonald to shoot, even if the duo were off-target with their respective efforts.

Serb slays Sunderland

Mitrovic had struggled against John O’Shea for much of the game, but the former Newcastle man had his moment on 77 minutes. The Serb, played onside by Kone, escaped the attentions of Fletcher to nod home Johansen’s free-kick to the back-post. While that goal prompted euphoria among the home fans, it came as little surprise to the travelling contingent, who had seen their side struggle to defend aerial balls all season.

Black Cats need an identity

After relegation was mathematically rubber-stamped following Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to Burton, the main objective for the Black Cats here was to show spirit. To an extent, they did that and vocal fan support for Coleman suggests he is the best man to lead them into League One. Equally though, the second half showed the Welshman needs to implement a coherent playing identity that extends beyond the basics. Sunderland too often resorted to aimless long balls when under pressure, which suggests they have either not fully established their way of playing, or lack the confidence to execute it; perhaps a combination of both.

Pressure on Cardiff

The result gives the Whites a huge boost; they move up to second before automatic promotion rivals Cardiff kick-off at Hull tomorrow. The Bluebirds still have it in their own hands but have shown signs of nerves in recent weeks; Tuesday’s error-strewn second half at Derby was punished by a 3-1 defeat, not long after a 1-0 home loss to Wolves preceded a Neil Warnock tantrum. There are enough signs to suggest that Cardiff will drop points in their final two games and if they do, Fulham look poised to capitalize.