After Tuesday’s night’s emphatic win over Play-Off contenders Sheffield United added to the scalps of Wolves and Aston Villa at the Cottage, and topping off a week which saw Fulham win at Derby for the first time since 2002, Jack J Collins looks at yesterday’s performance.
There were long six or seven minute periods last night where Sheffield United couldn’t touch the ball. Fulham’s midfield trio, aided and abetted by the footballing prowess of both Denis Odoi and Tim Ream, passed the ball round in dizzying circles, in what I imagine training exercises at La Masia and the Etihad must look like.
At points, it was breathtaking. Fulham’s off-the-ball movement to offer the extra pass is second to absolutely nobody in this division and when Tom Cairney conducts his fellow Whites in perfect harmony like they were yesterday, he looks every inch a maestro of old—pulling the strings in the middle as if his Scottish-Nottingham ancestry had been given a South American twist by the footballing gods.
Cairney looks back to his pirouetting, prancing best; and topped off another spell-binding performance with a goal that was richly deserved, allowing the knee-slide to make a welcome return to the Cottage turf. His numbers in terms of pass completion were mesmerising, as Lyall Thomas highlighted last night.
Mitrovic will get the headlines but have some of this from @ThomasCairney:
— Lyall Thomas (@SkySportsLyall) March 6, 2018
For every beauty, however, there must be a beast. And if the fairytale is to be believed, when the beast is rewarded with genuinely gratified love by beauty, he becomes a prince. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Aleksandar Mitrovic—not the ugly, card-collecting specimen many were expecting, but a manifestation of pure physicality with a footballing brain to match.
When Richard Stearman (the Gaston of this story if there ever was one) left a late elbow in on the Serbian early on, many might have been concerned that Mitrovic might react badly, leaving a foot in late or squashing the former Fulham man like a bug. Instead, he responded with a kind of cruel mercy, letting Stearman live and giving him a footballing lesson instead.
Mitrovic was everything Fulham needed yesterday. His ability to win aerial duels at both ends of the pitch released the pressure on Fulham’s goal, and his football sensibilities were gloriously highlighted in a finish which left both sets of fans, and Jamal Blackman in the Blades net, stunned.
‘He shouldn’t be playing at this level’, sighed Chris Wilder afterwards. To be fair to him, on yesterday’s performance, nor should most of this Fulham team.
It’s too early to be counting our chickens about the Play-Offs, never mind catching Cardiff and Wolves; and tough games lie ahead, but watching Fulham last night was pure ecstatic pleasure, an absolute masterclass of passing football led by the conductor’s left foot and the glorious power of a striker hitting his stride.
We waited through the agonising dullness of Martin Jol’s demise. We waited through the insanity of Felix Magath’s madhouse. We waited through Kit’s diamond and when the Hammersmith End spat poison. We waited through a play-off defeat and four painful trips to Reading in a year. We waited through the confusion of Stef being played as a false nine.
These are the days we waited for.