Aleksandar Mitrovic on target again as Fulham win to deny Brighton top spot | Premier League

“Mitro’s on fire” was the chant, loud and long, that serenaded Fulham’s players as they left the pitch. It is a familiar song in these parts but has not generally held true at Premier League level.

This season the chant describes Aleksandar Mitrovic perfectly and can be applied to his team, too. Tepid, bloated and chronically disjointed throughout their previous two seasons in the top flight, Fulham look an entirely different proposition this time and Craven Cottage pulsates with a noise and belief that have not been evident in years.

Brighton had it all to gain here, knowing a win would take them temporarily top, but were defeated by a performance that arguably merited a greater margin of victory. They were a shadow of their best selves, scratchy in defence and generally short of the fluidity that has taken them this far. Although Brighton pushed after Alexis Mac Allister’s penalty, which gave them a lifeline after conceding twice early in the second half, an equaliser would have been flattering.

Perhaps in another year Fulham would have buckled under the late pressure. But Marco Silva appears to have worked wonders with a group that in some cases were bit‑part performers when they flopped in 2020‑21. Back then Tim Ream was usually an afterthought when the back four was picked; now he was throwing himself at late deliveries and looking every inch a top-flight captain. Neeskens Kebano was sent on loan to Middlesbrough 18 months ago but, at least until Mitrovic got going, was the best attacker on the pitch.

As for Mitrovic, what a vindication these early weeks have been. The disparity between his goal returns in the first and second tiers always seemed unduly wild even if doubts about his off-the-ball contribution were understandable. His opener three minutes after the interval, converted at the far post after Kebano’s clever first‑time centre, was his 100th league goal for Fulham but he offered so much more.

Mitrovic was a charging, dynamic presence to the very end, pursuing balls into the corner during added time and relieving pressure. He will never be the quickest but, at 27, his brain finally looks in sync with that immense power. It does not feel a fluke that he has scored five in as many games.

Brighton’s Robert Sanchez and Adam Webster react after Lewis Dunk scores an own goal for Fulham
Robert Sánchez and Adam Webster show their disappointment after Lewis Dunk’s own goal doubles Fulham’s lead. Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters

“He’s an animal and is so physical,” Ream said. “Playing with him is great; in training against him it is not so great.”

Silva was similarly minded to wax lyrical. “He was unbelievable, I told him at the end of the match,” he said. “He will keep scoring if you keep delivering for him, I don’t have doubts about it. He is completely connected with the team and the team with him.”

From the front Mitrovic epitomised Fulham: a side willing to run, harry and snarl before striking with speed and venom. Their second goal, which came seven minutes later, spoke volumes. A Brighton corner was cleared and Fulham broke at lightning speed after winning the ball, which ended up with Andreas Pereira via Kebano. The Brazil midfielder’s cutback might have caused trouble in any case, but a sliding Lewis Dunk ensured maximum damage by diverting it past a wrongfooted Robert Sánchez from 14 yards.

“Unbelievable work from our team without the ball, fantastic the way they pressed,” Silva said.

João Palhinha, the rangy midfielder signed from Sporting, snapped and chased all night and looks an exceptional addition.

But this was a collective effort that outdid Brighton for intensity from the first whistle, even if the opening period did not bring much beyond half-chances.

By the 25th minute Graham Potter, mindful that his defenders had been pulled around, changed from a back three to a four. He might have hoped a second-half uptick would propel them to the summit but instead they were put to the sword.

“We were below par,” Potter said. “I thought Fulham played well and overall deserved to win. We weren’t quite as good as we can be.”

Their opportunity to recover came when Bobby Decordova-Reid clipped Pervis Estupiñán, a decision made with the aid of VAR, and Mac Allister rattled in the spot‑kick. But they could not prise Fulham open in the final half-hour and should have been picked off on the counter.

Fulham move sixth but such a fast start will not deter Silva from making additions by the deadline. Willian is likely to sign; he could be joined by Layvin Kurzawa and Justin Kluivert. Seasoned watchers will hope an agreeable balance is not about to be put out of whack. “The atmosphere we have now, I’ve not seen before,” Ream said. For now the fire is burning brightly.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: