Sport

Mitrovic hat-trick gives Fulham key win over promotion rivals West Brom

How fitting it was that Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You blared over the speakers as Aleksandar Mitrovic, clutching the match ball, stood in the centre circle wrapping up his post-match media duties. A core of worshipping Fulham supporters stuck around to serenade the striker as he conducted his own victory lap, fresh from a hat-trick that fuelled a comprehensive win and took his tally to an almost ludicrous 18 goals in 15 games.

Mitrovic makes this Championship lark look easy. He scored 26 en route to promotion two years ago and is as a close as it gets to a goal guarantee in the division. He will surely prove key to whether this slick Fulham team return to the Premier League at the first attempt and the frightening thing for opposition defences is that there are seven months of the season to play.

In this mood, Mitrovic seems unlikely to wind down anytime soon. The Serbia striker has scored 20 goals in 19 appearances for club and country since August, a feat that is even more staggering given how sparingly he was used in the top flight last season, when he scored three goals.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” said the Fulham head coach, Marco Silva, whose side have won four successive games. “When a striker has 18 goals in 15 games, in terms of the confidence, I don’t need much time to speak with him about what he is doing. The goals do it for me; his job is done. I have to do different things.

“His teammates are helping him and he has to keep with the momentum. I’m pleased to see Mitro in a good mood, the team in a good mood.”

Both teams finished with 10 men but nothing could take the shine off this victory for a Fulham side that showcased their promotion credentials.

Mitrovic had four touches in the opposition box but made them count; two of those resulted in first-half goals that took the game away from West Brom, whose main threat stemmed from winning the aerial battle, and another sealed victory after Darnell Furlong was shown a red card for fouling Harry Wilson.

Fulham kept West Brom at arm’s length but the visitors threatened from set pieces. Marek Rodak made a smart stop to prevent Matt Clarke finding the net with a flying header from just inside the box and Kyle Bartley twice went close.

The only disappointing note for Fulham was the red card shown to Tosin Adarabioyo, who was guilty of poor challenge on the substitute Grady Diangana with five minutes to play. “It was the only moment we regret,” Silva said.

Fulham are well placed behind the leaders, Bournemouth, and West Brom are too, despite falling four points behind the hosts after a third successive away defeat.

Mitrovic got up and running from the penalty spot, side-footing in after Bartley was deemed to have fouled the striker in the process of raking the ball away from his feet. He then toe-poked in before the interval after seizing on an error by Robert Snodgrass, whose blind pass rolled straight into his path.

Fulham have scored 36 goals – more than any other team in the top four tiers – and Mitrovic was typically ruthless, stretching to beat a stranded Sam Johnstone.

Snodgrass raised his hand apologetically and West Brom may as well have held a white flag aloft when Mitrovic added a third eight minutes from time, converting Wilson’s cross from close range moments after the lively Neeskens Kebano arrowed wide.

Mitrovic made sure to soak up the adulation as the Hammersmith End saluted him and more celebrations were to come.

“We created some chances but we needed to score,” said the West Brom head coach, Valérien Ismaël. “The red card gave us the final shot to lose the game.”