Aleksandar Mitrovic has been linked with the likes of Villarreal and Juventus in recent days and tonight against Derby, Fulham got an impromptu demonstration of what life might be like without him – they won’t have liked it.
The team news at Craven Cottage was dominated by the headline that Mitrovic wasn’t even in the matchday squad, ruled out by an issue Marco Silva hadn’t mentioned in his pre-match press conference, whilst goalkeeper Marek Rodak had suffered a similar mysterious fate.
The challenge for the hosts, then, was to keep their winning run going without two key men at either end and, for Derby, the plan had to be to try and profit in a game they were not expected to get much from – the same was said about them on Sunday of course.
Indeed, the Rams deserve immense credit for the way they set themselves up here. Yes, they were defensively solid and prioritised that but they were not negative – they broke forward when they could and had good chances through Tom Lawrence in particular, though both times he was thwarted by Paulo Gazzaniga in net.
The Fulham stopper had done his part of the bargain, then, in replacing Rodak well but, up the other end, the magic of Mitrovic could not be replaced.
In fairness to Rodrigo Muniz, that oh so important commodity of game time for a striker has not come his way much this season thanks to Mitrovic’s form and availability, and when his chances came tonight that air of rustiness was on display – he snatched at a chance after latching onto a loose Derby pass to fire wide in the first half and was unlucky to see a header cleared off of the line and a bicycle kick opposing manager Wayne Rooney would have been proud of flash over in the second.
Perhaps, on another day with more minutes in the tank, Muniz would have put one of these chances away but he cannot take sole blame for this draw for Fulham, the supporting cast simply were not at their best on the night.
Fabio Carvalho was bright enough, hitting the post in the second 45 and regularly jinking through the Rams’ defence but ultimately Fulham didn’t quite have enough to break through and extend their winning run.
For Derby, meanwhile, it’s another step in the right direction on their most arduous path. Now on one point, they’re still far from safety but in the space of a couple of days have shown they have enough about themselves to give anyone a game in this league, and get results – that’s something they’ll be looking to build on when easier on paper opposition come up in the weeks and months ahead.
Fulham 0-0 Derby