Fulham started life under Claudio Ranieri with a bang as the Whites beat Southampton 3-2 in an action packed afternoon at Craven Cottage.
After falling behind early to a Stuart Armstrong effort from just inside the box the Whites battled back to take a slender one goal lead into half-time. Aleksandar Mitrović headed home in the 33rd minute to level the score and two minutes before the break André Schürrle rifled home to make it 2-1. After being pegged back once more in the 53rd minute by Armstrong Mitro pounced to restore a one goal lead ten minutes later.
Ranieri made one change from the side that had battled valiantly away at Liverpool two weeks ago, bringing Jean Michaël Seri back into the starting XI to replace the injured André-Frank Zambo Anguissa.
It was a tense opening from both sides but Fulham enjoyed the lions share of possession in the first 5 minutes. However, the first chance of the match fell to Manolo Gabbiadini. From a corner the ball fell nicely to Armstrong outside the box. The Scot unleashed a vicious first time drive which fizzed through a crowd of players before being well parried by Sergio Rico in the Fulham net. Gabbiadini, who had followed the shot into the box looked to fire in from close range with a right-footed shot but Rico stood up well and produced a fine save to tip behind for a corner. A golden opportunity to open the scoring spurned.
The Whites responded well and in the 15th minute had their first effort on goal from a set piece. An in-swinging Seri corner was glanced on goal by Calum Chambers at the near post but Alex McCarthy was well positioned to claim and clear.
Minutes later the deadlock was broken. A throw in behind the Fulham defence was chipped into the danger area by Nathan Redmond. A headed clearance by Maxime Le Marchand was pounced on by Armstrong who chested past the onrushing Fulham defence and swept home past Rico.
The match stagnated but in the 32nd minute the Whites were back level courtesy of a fine Aleksandar Mitrović header. A quick pass forward into the path of an unmarked Ryan Sessegnon. The explosive winger took a touch and passed it back into the feet of Tom Cairney who had dropped off into space in the middle of the pitch. The skipper looked up and swung a delightful ball out to the left flank to Le Marchand. It appeared that the Frenchman’s touch had spurned the opportunity but he made amends with a picture perfect cross onto the head of Mitro, who glanced it home into the bottom right hand corner. The Cottage erupted and the sides were all square.
The first half fight back was completed in the 43rd when Schürrle smashed home from 6 yards after some scintillating play from Sessegnon on the left wing. After controlling a lofted cross-field ball the winger glided effortlessly past two Southampton defenders before whipping a peach of a cross across the six-yards box. Before any McCarthy could react the ball was planted into the back of the net by controlled right-footed strike from Schürrle. A sublime move from the Whites capped off by a lovely finish.
The Whites were contented to sit back at the start of the second half and almost produced a clinical counter to extend the lead in the 51st minute. A sweeping move culminating in a fierce low drive from Mitrović that was saved superbly in the Southampton net by McCarthy.
That save proved to be crucial as two minutes later the visitors were back level. After failing to clear a a bobbling ball on the edge of the Fulham box a neat backheel was played into the path of Armstrong, who without hesitation, powered home a right-footed shot past Rico.
Heads didn’t drop and in the Fulham ranks and our lead was restored in the 63rd minute when Mitrović picked picked up his second goal of the game. The goal came as a result of fight, passion and persistence that had been on show throughout from the Whites. Schürrle chased a long ball all the way to the corner flag and pinned his man in deep, forcing a hurried clearance which fell kindly for Cyrus Christie on the right. The powerful fullback whipped in a teasing cross which was flicked on by Sessegnon in the centre circle. Without hesitation, Mitro volleyed home with aplomb into the far corner past a baffled McCarthy. A fabulous finish from the Serbian striker.
A nervy close to the game ensued but a performance littered with grit and passion was rewarded as the referee blew his whistle after five minutes of added on time.