SLAV’S PREPARED FOR LONG HAUL
Mitrovic is goal hero yet again...
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.”
ALEKSANDAR THE GREAT: Mitrovic scores Fulham’s winner