Fiery Fulham must fix ill-discipline as Aleksandar Mitrovic faces lengthy ban for referee shove
In the time it takes to boil a kettle, Fulham went from potential FA Cup semi-finalists to boiling over, with Aleksandar Mitrovic, unsurprisingly, the man to flick the switch.
Sunday was supposed to be the club’s grand day out — their first FA Cup quarter-final since 2010. But no sooner were they setting their sights on a Wembley showdown with Brighton, than they were two men down — three if you include manager Marco Silva — and heading out at the hands of United.
Fulham fans started to dream when Mitrovic ended his nine-match goal drought early in the second half, only for his ridiculous shove on referee Chris Kavanagh to prove the climax of a minute of madness that saw it all unravel.
Willian had been sent off for blocking Jadon Sancho’s shot on the line with his elbow, and Silva would soon follow for leaving his technical area amid his protests. But even then, with 10 men and a goal advantage, Fulham might have had hope. Not, though, after hot-headed Mitrovic had torn at Kavanagh in a rage.
The FA were this morning awaiting the referee’s report before deciding on any further punishment, but the Serbian forward could face a lengthy ban, comparisons drawn with Paulo Di Canio’s infamous push on Paul Alcock 25 years ago, which earned the Italian an 11-game suspension.
The match spun on its axis in that flurry of chaos 18 minutes from time. Within five of them, Fulham were 2-1 down, through Bruno Fernandes and Marcel Sabitzer. Fernandes would score again to compound the turnaround in stoppage time.
Ninth in the League and so close to a semi-final, Fulham are enjoying a stellar campaign by any metric, but ill-discipline is preventing them from turning it into a superb one.
Midfielder Joao Palhinha — who signed from Sporting in the summer — has been their player of the season, but after earning 10 yellow cards, served his second suspension of the campaign recently. In his absence, Fulham’s unlikely European push was harmed by tame defeats to Brentford and Arsenal.
Palhinha was back for Sunday’s trip, and Fulham were better for it — and better than United in a brilliant first-half display — but did not remain at full strength for long enough. Willian had to go after his goal-line handball, even if that would somehow turn out the most defensible of the three dismissals.
Silva had already become the first Premier League manager suspended this season when, in February, he collected his fourth yellow for touchline remonstrations, but that proved no deterrent here. The stupidity then shown by Mitrovic was on a different level entirely.
Fulham are enjoying a stellar campaign by any metric, but ill-discipline is preventing them from turning it into a superb one
Palhinha knows his importance to Fulham and must avoid soft bookings; Willian should never have handled the ball; but Silva and Mitrovic are the manager and star player and must appreciate it harms the team when they let their emotions get the better of them.
It was the seventh red card of Mitrovic’s career, and he has already served a Premier League suspension this season for racking up too many yellows. He must temper his temper.
When Silva was suspended in February, he said: “I don’t see one reason to get a yellow card,” before suggesting referees treat his team harshly. He reacted similarly yesterday, claiming Kavanagh has repeatedly given decisions against his side this term.
Once he had calmed down, he admitted: “In all the moment of games, we should control our emotions. We are human beings, but we have to understand the game we’re playing. If I’m out of my area and there is a reason for him to give a red card when he’s watching the screen, I have to accept it.”
After three straight defeats, the international break may have come at a good time for Fulham. They can take a moment to breathe and prepare for a run-in featuring winnable games. But first they must address their discipline.