By Paul Jones
Cardiff City have been warned that Fulham’s armoury will be fully stocked tonight with 31-goal Aleksandar Mitrovic waiting to be launched in their direction.
The Serbian striker is set to return from a three-match suspension to face the Bluebirds at Craven Cottage, where any slip-up could result in Neil Harris’s side tumbling out of the play-off spots by the end of the weekend.
Mitrovic has scored 23 Championship goals already this season, plus eight more for Serbia, and will provide a tough challenge to a Cardiff side that conceded three goals at home to Blackburn Rovers in defeat on Tuesday.
During his three game absence, Fulham have managed to win all three, but manager Scott Parker says his fourth-placed team have more options when his talisman is available.
“When Mitrovic isn’t with us, then the boys have to adapt and find a different way to play and I’m pleased that we have done that,” said Parker.
“We have had to change things around tactically over the last couple of weeks – and we said people needed to stand up now and chip in to get results and keep moving forward. The players have been spot on.”
Fulham may be on a roll, but so are the clubs above them and as Brentford, West Brom and Leeds United keep winning the Cottagers’ chances of automatic promotion look remote.
But a fourth straight victory could yet put a little pressure on the top two, so they are unlikely to ease up against Cardiff, especially as three more points will confirm their place in the place-offs.
Fulham’s six home games against teams directly below them in the table have returned five wins (all to nil) and one defeat.
Parker is an admirer of Harris and expects a difficult match, despite Cardiff’s stumble in midweek.
“They’re a team that was Premier League not so long ago,” added Parker.
“We understand their qualities, they’ve got some very good players, some experience in their team, players who have been in and around the Premier League. We understand their qualities and what they’re going to bring.
“Neil’s done a very good job there. They’ve got a bit of momentum, I know they had a bad result midweek, but they’ve picked up some good results against good teams.
“They beat Leeds in their first game back after lockdown, so we’re going into this game fully focused as it will be a tough evening for us.”
Swansea City may be breathing hard down Cardiff’s neck after back-to-back victories, but Harris still believes Cardiff can maintain their narrow advantage over the remaining four matches.
“We’re in sixth spot because we got 10 points in five games – so we’re going great guns,” said Harris.
“Ultimately, Swansea, Derby, Preston, Blackburn, Millwall, it doesn’t matter to us, we just want sixth spot.
“All that’s changed is that the team behind us is slightly closer. It’s about what we do first and foremost in fixtures, the amount of points we can get to, but you look at other teams because that’s a natural assessment of the division at the top and bottom, you have to be aware of things around you, but for me we focus on ourselves and on Friday evening, against a tough opponent in Fulham.
“We’ll look at the results over the weekend, because you want them to go in your favour, that’s natural.
“You expect at this stage of the season and the magnitude of the games that some results go for you, and some won’t.
“It’s a time for cool heads at this stage of the season, and with four games to go, we’re holding that sixth position so we’re there to be shot at.”