This was the night Fulham bared their teeth back in the Championship. Their front three had always felt the envy of the division but in running amok so ruthlessly to dismantle a normally robust Millwall team they reminded fellow contenders of their pedigree. There may be no living with Aleksandar Mitrovic, Anthony Knockaert and Ivan Cavaleiro at this level.
The trio all scored in a lopsided contest with Fulham completing 934 passes and enjoyed 89% possession in the first half. To have clawed that back closer to 85% by the end – “Is that all?” said Millwall’s Neil Harris, jokingly – felt like a minor triumph for the crestfallen visitors but the passes figure still represented a record since Opta began collating such data in the second tier in 2013.
Scott Parker was thrilled by his team’s domination, orchestrated masterfully by Thomas Cairney, but will have taken most heart from the bite that set them apart. The signings of Cavaleiro and Knockaert will prove masterstrokes.
“We knew what we were getting from the players we’ve signed,” he said. “It doesn’t guarantee you success but you limit the risk. That’s credit to the owner and to Tony Khan who identified the mistakes we made last year in terms of recruitment. We ticked boxes this year.”
Perhaps Millwall could have been more tenacious – they are usually a team capable of weathering storms and still prospering – but this was an uncharacteristically timid display. They watched Fulham ping their passes, dropping ever deeper until a visiting full-back was inevitably isolated and bypassed by a slippery winger. Matt Smith’s arrival briefly offered some respite but this was an insipid performance that courted disaster.
Fulham’s front three will trouble better opposition than Millwall. Cavaleiro forced them ahead with a goal as eye-catching as his winner at Huddersfield last week. The Portuguese was permitted too much space by Mahlon Romeo before darting back across the box past Connor Mahoney’s tentative challenge. Once he had squeezed out sufficient space, he whipped a shot emphatically beyond Bartosz Bialkowski.
The Wolves loanee would add a second, collecting another beautifully weighted Cairney pass to round the goalkeeper. In between, and not to be outdone, Knockaert had emerged through the clutter in the six-yard box to nod in Cavaleiro’s centre. There were 26 passes in the buildup to the Frenchman’s goal, the move involving all 11 players, with Millwall left dizzy by the paceFulham moved the ball.
The only surprise was that Mitrovic had to wait so long before scoring. He was tripped by Bialkowski after a heavy touch at Harry Arter’s dragged shot, with the penalty battered in with glee.
“Their fans must be thinking: ‘What are we doing in this division? We should be in the Premier League,’” Harris said. On this evidence Fulham’s stay will be brief.