The last time Aleksandar Mitrovic missed a Premier League penalty, it proved to be the beginning of the toughest period in the strikers career. After blazing over at Bramall Lane, the Serbian missed a crucial penalty in a shootout that saw his nation miss out on qualification for the delayed Euro 2020 finals and then found himself on the fringes of the Fulham first-team.
There threatened to be a hangover this weekend, as Mitrovic saw a goal correctly ruled out for offside, and a number of chances spurned, the best of which after being out through one on one by an opposition defender. Then he caused pandemonium in Craven Cottage with a trademark, back-post header in the closing minutes of this hotly contested West-London derby.
After the miss at Molineux, Marco Silva was keen to maintain the confidence of his premium goal source. “The next penalty he will take, and the next penalty he will score.” There can be no clearer indication of a head coaches faith.
Mitro has been referred to as a player who scores in streaks, pointing to confidence and belief playing a significant role in his scoring output. Last season the streak lasted the entirety of the campaign, but a look at history proves this to be a reasonable theory. After opening his top flight account for Newcastle, he scored in back to back games, and did so again twice more during the season. Five of his nine goals came in some form of a run. In 2018/19 he hit the net five times in the first six games, but then didn’t register again until gameweek 13 with a brace. After five from six, he then scored 6 from his remaining 31 appearances.
Confidence is key for Fulham’s talisman, so it was important on several levels that he rose above the Brentford backline to power his header into Hammersmith End goal in trademark fashion. This wasn’t just a derby winner. It wasn’t just the first three-point haul of the season. This could be vital in ensuring this is the season Mitrovic proves his Premier League mettle. He is currently matching Erling Haaland, and out scoring Gabriel Jesus. It goes without saying that if he can stay in the realm of these two proven marksmen, Fulham’s chances of a successful season are greatly enhanced.
The three points here were not solely down to Serbia’s record goal scorer. This wasn’t a vintage performance in the same vein as that against Liverpool on the opening weekend. This time he was largely outshone by teammates, in particular the increasingly impressive Jaoa Palhinha who has added a further set pieces threat with his presence in the box. His impassioned celebration of the winner means he is already a firm favourite among Whites fans.
Andreas Pereira turned in his best performance since arriving at The Cottage, and slowly winning over any doubters to his credentials after failing to fully establish himself at previous clubs. His tireless running, quick feet and precision deliveries make him a real asset to this team, and he is becoming a key component of it. Pereira’s attributes were on full display as Fulham raced into a first minute lead, shimmying his way out of a tight space on the halfway line, before playing in Mitrovic who’s ball across goal was eventually bundled in by Bobby Decordova-Reid.
The Jamaican international was joined in the front line by Jay Stansfield, making his full Premier League debut, and the teenager didn’t look out of place. Fulham are still in need of reinforcements in that area, but Marco Silva is getting the most out of what he has at his disposal, and showing them and his talisman the faith needed to compete at this level.
Tom Cairney is another who influenced the outcome. It could be considered unusual for a club captain to be so clearly on the edge of the starting XI. Cairney is yet to kick-off a fixture this season, but his impact from the bench can not be understated. At a time when momentum had swung in the direction of the less than welcome neighbours, he almost single-handedly wrestled control back, with sure touches and accurate forward passes. Having been at the club for seven years, TC knows that fans value a result in this one slightly more than just the three points on offer, and he duly delivered a performance to suit the occasion. His manager trusts him in key moments, and has made it clear to Cairney that he has an important role to play.
Mitrovic didn’t have that same trust Silva has in him from his previous manager. The next penalty that came Fulham’s way after his Steel City shank, was infamously taken by Ademola Lookman, despite the no. 9 being on the pitch. Incidentally, that was just five days before the crucial kick for Serbia. Confidence is a funny thing.