While Aston Villa proved they can win without Jack Grealish, this was such a missed opportunity for Fulham. Leading through Aleksandar Mitrovic’s goal, Scott Parker’s side failed to climb out of the relegation zone as they conceded three goals in the final 12 minutes, Dean Smith’s attacking substitutions making the difference.
Mahmoud Trezeguet scored his first goals of the season, the second from a superb cross by fellow incomer Keinan Davis, before Ollie Watkins, fresh from making a goalscoring debut for England last week, wrapped up a satisfying recovery by Villa to end his club drought.
Yet it was all there for Fulham. Mitrovic, having scored five times in Serbia’s three recent games, capitalised on a lax back-pass from Tyrone Mings to move ahead of Newcastle into 17th place for 17 minutes before they fell to their first defeat in nine away games.
Parker was scathingly honest in his assessment of his young team’s mental fragility after this fourth defeat in five games. “After their first goal, we dropped our intensity,” the Fulham manager said. “We weren’t streetwise enough in those moments.
“At 1-1, the emotion of the game was too much for us, their goal affected us too much. We need to be brutally honest. We need to show that last 15 minutes to the players. You can’t hide that under the carpet. We didn’t manage the game well enough.
“If the mindset is that then I know we’re not going to win football matches. But when we’ve had bumps this season we’ve come back. We’re right in it. We put ourselves in a good position and with seven games to go, we’ve got a fighting chance.”
Newcastle’s earlier draw with Tottenham meant victory would have lifted Fulham out of the bottom three for the first time in four months. Instead, Villa came from behind to win for the first time this season.
“Sometimes you need those impacts to come from the subs’ bench and it certainly happened today,” Dean Smith said. Grealish “felt some discomfort” after his first full week of training following a shin injury, the Villa manager said, but the silver lining was this game “proved we can win without Jack”.
Villa have won twice in seven games in their captain’s absence, compared with a 50% win ratio when he plays, and for large parts of this game the trend looked set to continue.
Bobby De Cordova-Reid, Fulham’s leading goalscorer, headed well wide from Kenny Tete’s right-wing cross early on and Mitrovic had an instinctive shot superbly parried by Emiliano Martínez. When Joachim Andersen stretched to divert wide a free-kick from Ademola Lookman that somehow eluded everyone, goalkeeper included, Mings recognised the malaise. “Hey everyone,” Villa’s stand-in captain called out. “Lift it up.”
Mario Lemina looked a relieved man not to give away a penalty with two close calls in first-half stoppage time. First John McGinn went to ground under the midfielder’s legal pressure; then Watkins collected the loose ball and appeared to be tripped by the same man. Andrew Madley awarded the penalty initially but decided he had made a clear and obvious mistake after being advised to view the pitchside monitor.
The portents were all there for Fulham. They just needed to create more goalscoring opportunities or, conversely, be granted one. There appeared to be very little danger after Fulham’s midfield pressing saw the ball ricochet all the way back to Ezri Konsa. He played it short to Mings whose back-pass allowed Mitrovic to round Martínez and slot the ball in for his first Premier League goal since September.
Mings made amends for his misdemeanour by marauding forwards and, receiving Matt Targett’s short pass down the left wing, crossing for Trezeguet to shoot home first time with his left foot. “It was an uncharacteristic mistake for him,” Smith said of Mings. “Some people would have crumbled but he’s got so much character.”
Three minutes later Davis pressured an indecisive Tosin Adarabioyo into giving up possession and then crossed for Trezeguet to steer in a low right-footed volley. When Bertrand Traoré jinked his way past two defenders and centred across the face of goal, Watkins turned in his first goal in eight club games.
Parker will attempt to inject greater resilience as Fulham look to take their next chance to climb out of the bottom three when they host Wolves on Friday.