The good news was that Fulham gave up less than two goals for the first time all season. The bad news was that one goal came in the second minute of the match. Unlike Man City last weekend where the goal came from an errant pass, Watford’s goal came off of a long throw in by Jose Holebas. However, the result found a way to be the same where Andre Gray muscled his defender and started a combination between him and Will Hughes. Before you know it, Gray found space in the left hand side of the penalty area with no one covering him and Fulham were once again needing to chase a game.
For the sixth time in six fixtures, former Watford boss and current Fulham manager Slavisa Jokanovic was playing with a different backline as Calum Chambers and Timothy Fosu-Mensah came in for Denis Odoi and Cyrus Christie, respectively. Once again, the results of a non-cohesive unit showed as they constantly couldn’t handle Watford’s pressing game, along with the physicality of Gray and Troy Deeney. Along with that, space was constantly there for Roberto Pereyra and Will Hughes to run behind the defense as communications between center back and full back were lacking all first half.
If there was an attacking outlet, it was always coming deep from midfield as Andre Schurrle and Luciano Vietto always seemed to be having to come from their own half to collect the ball. There was one buildup that seemed to work where Vietto was through Watford’s defense and was able to take Fulham’s lone shot on goal. After Vietto collected the rebounded save by Ben Foster, he tried to ping a cross to Aleksander Mitrovic. But in spite of never going to be able to get a limb to it, the center forward looked to have been collided by Christian Kabasele in the penalty are.
However, referee Martin Atkinson did not deem it as such and was instead, showing yellow cards to Fulham defenders who constantly looked second to any loose balls. It was why, despite having 57% possession, that Watford were dominating in total shots (6-3), shots on target (4-1) and expected goals (1.34-0.48). Even if Watford only had one goal to show for it, their long ball tactics and constant hounding of the backline were why they looked like the more dominating side. Kabasele could have had a goal off of corner kick and Gray could have gotten a second off of a horrifying back pass by Alfie Mawson. Add a clumsy and deserved yellow card to his account and the former Swansea man had a miserable afternoon.
You just know how much insult was added to injury to see him get substituted at halftime in place of Odoi. Along with that, Kevin McDonald might have gotten as many interceptions and tackles in a half as he did back in his hey days at Wolves, but even he wasn’t providing good enough cover for his defense. As a result, he was substituted by Floyd Ayite at halftime as Jokanovic changed the shape of his team into a 4-2-3-1 formation. With all these changes, the tables completely turned for how the rest of the match turned out.
After constantly looking for better treatment from the referee and better passes from teammates, Mitrovic was starting to come alive. He was given a beautifully weighted cross by Schurrle that resulted in a header that just missed the net, but that was enough for the Serbian star man to get his game going the rest of the way. After constant persistence in attack from everyone involved, in particular Vietto, Jean-Michael Seri, Ryan Sessegnon, and even Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Fulham were finally able to get the breakthrough.
In the 77th minute, Vietto was able to beat out Daryl Janmaat for the ball off of a blocked attempt by Schurrle inside the penalty area. From there, Vietto was able to ping a ball into ping a perfectly timed cross to Mitrovic to put the score level.
From there, Watford still had there moments of danger instilled on Fulham with their pressing game, but they had little to show for it. If anything, it felt like Deeney left two grade A chances on the table with either a poor touch or poor decision making when he had a shot at goal. On Fulham’s end, Mitrovic continued to impose his will on the game after it looked like Kabasele’s man-marking frustrated him from the start. Now with a joint Premier League-leading five goals, Mitro wanted more and almost had a second if it weren’t for another header attempt rattling the crossbar.
In the end, it was a fair result for both sides. Fulham should be given credit for fighting back, but they are desperate for finding the correct formation and backline and sticking with it the rest of the league campaign once again, especially for as long as Tom Cairney is not able to play due to injury. In the meantime, positive momentum is back in Craven Cottage and they can at least go into the league cup at Millwall and in the Premier League at Everton with an extra bounce in their step for one week.