SLAV’S PRE­PARED FOR LONG HAUL

Mitro­vic is goal hero yet again...

The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Ross Law­son

HERO Alek­san­dar Mitro­vic struck late to keep Ful­ham’s au­to­matic pro­mo­tion hopes alive but boss Slav­isa Jokanovic has warned his side to pre­pare for a play-off push.

The Whites ex­tended their in­com­pa­ra­ble un­beaten run to 23 games thanks to vic­tory over al­ready-rel­e­gated Sun­der­land, but Cardiff ’s win at Hull means a spot in the top two re­mains out of their hands.

Yet come the full-time whis­tle Jokanovic was sim­ply re­lieved to get the three points af­ter Ful­ham were forced to come from behind, Lu­cas Pi­a­zon re­spond­ing to Joel Asoro’s first-half opener.

Now with a do-or-die clash to come at Birm­ing­ham next week, the boss knows his side will not be the ones anx­iously look­ing over their shoul­ders on the fi­nal week­end.

“This is a cru­cial stage in the Cham­pi­onship but I don’t ex­pect there to be this pres­sure in the next game,” he said.

“Now it’s the turn of Cardiff and we are wait­ing to see if they are un­der the pres­sure. Now the ball is in a dif­fer­ent court.

“I don’t know if they are un­der pres­sure or not un­der pres­sure. It’s not un­der my con­trol. The sit­u­a­tion is still in Cardiff’s con­trol. If they win games, we can­not do any­thing.

“We have to try and win the last game against Birm­ing­ham and if that’s not enough, we have to be ready for the next steps and be ready for the play­offs. If we can’t fin­ish it in the short way, we have to be ready to fin­ish in the long way.

“You can see how com­pli­cated this com­pe­ti­tion is. We wanted to con­trol the sit­u­a­tion but didn’t at­tack enough and take risks. In the sec­ond half, we started to move the ball bet­ter and there was a big dif­fer­ence with our pass­ing.”

For the first time in 16 games the hosts had to come back from con­ced­ing the game’s first goal, look­ing nervy when Asoro turned and fired home from the edge of the area on the halfhour for the plucky Black Cats.

It could have got worse when the ragged hosts couldn’t clear their lines, with Ovie Ejaria seem­ingly felled by Tim Ream in the area, though no penalty was forth­com­ing.

Yet the groans of home dis- ap­proval hadn’t even sub­dued by the time they lev­elled, Ryan Fred­er­icks beat­ing his man and fir­ing across Ja­son Steele who could only palm into the path of Pi­a­zon, the Brazil­ian calmly slot­ting home as Craven Cot­tage held its breath on the stroke of half-time.

Re­lief pal­pa­ble, Ful­ham were sim­ply a dif­fer­ent an­i­mal in the sec­ond half. The in­tro­duc­tion of Aboubakar Ka­mara worked won­ders down the right with Fred­er­icks given an al­most free run, though the break­through came from a set-play.

Curled beau­ti­fully by Ste­fan Jo­hansen, the ball floated per­fectly for New­cas­tle-loa­nee Mitro­vic to head into the ground and in – his 12th goal in 13 games con­firm­ing Sun­der­land’s spot at the bot­tom of a divi­sion for the sec­ond suc­ces­sive sea­son.

“The header was a yard off­side, it wasn’t even a tough call,” said Black Cats man­ager Chris Cole­man.

“Look, we haven’t been rel­e­gated be­cause of referees, we’ve been rel­e­gated be­cause we haven’t been good enough.

“I was dis­ap­pointed with that, be­cause we had stood up to Ful­ham who are ever such a good team.

“Ful­ham don’t need any help, but they got some help.”

PIC­TURES: Ac­tion Images

ALEK­SAN­DAR THE GREAT: Mitro­vic scores Ful­ham’s win­ner

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