Fulham’s creative talent shows their destructive powers as Millwall suffer a rare heavy reverse

FULHAM 4
Cavaleiro 15, 63 Knockaert 32 Mitrovic 56 pen
MILLWALL 0
BY RICHARD CAWLEY AT CRAVEN COTTAGE

There were three or four workmen in Craven Cottage’s closed Riverside Stand who took in the game for free on Wednesday night – it will be ripped down soon as part of an extensive rebuild. But Fulham’s players decided to do a demolition job of their own on Millwall.

The white-and-black wrecking balls kept hammering away at the South Londoners with  passing so slick it could have induced motion sickness. The match was over as a contest before the hour mark.
During Neil Harris’ time in charge of Millwall, games where they have been emphatically beaten have been a very rare occurrence.

But this can be added to that short list. Harris admitted post-match that the 6-0 defeat to Tottenham in the 2017 FA Cup quarter-final was the last time that a team have taken them apart so clinically.

Fulham’s 84.5 per cent possession and 934 completed passes was the highest recorded in the Championship since Opta began collecting stats for that level in the 2013-13 season. Anthony Knockaert’s goal was a 26-pass move in which all 11 home players touched the ball.

Millwall had only conceded once in 270 minutes before they headed to west London. There should be no huge over-reaction after just one match – and against opposition who have been brought together at huge expense.

The likes of Knockaert and Ivan Cavaleiro, who helped himself to a double, were worth every penny of their massive salaries. This was a night when everything clicked for the hosts.

Millwall couldn’t live with them. They couldn’t even get close. Fulham had pace, penetration, vision and the technique to do as they wished.

Could the Lions have done any more? Well, they didn’t make the most of the set-pieces they won.

Harris tried to change things up at half-time as he brought on Matt Smith. Within seconds he had a chance inside the box but could not produce enough power – Marcus Bettinelli dropping on the only on-target shot mustered by the Lions.

The first five minutes after the restart was the best period for Millwall. Tom Bradshaw and Mahlon Romeo both had strikes blocked.

If the Lions had reduced the deficit, it would have been game on.

But instead, Fulham got a lucky break. Harry Arter’s shot was heading wide but ended up in the path of Aleksandar Mitrovic – Bart Bialkowski’s panicked attempts to snuff out the threat bringing down the Serbian, who then slammed home the penalty.

Knockaert and Cavaleiro are in that footballing limbo – excellent in the Championship but not seen as Premier League class. The same can be said for ex-Crystal Palace striker Dwight Gayle.

Cavaliero’s first was a replica of his goal at Huddersfield. Everyone in the ground knew he wanted to cut inside on his right foot and let rip – but Mahlon Romeo and Connor Mahoney were helpless to prevent it from happening. Bialkowski stood no chance.

The on-loan Wolves man rounded off the scoring – and Bialkowski – just past the hour mark. Tom Cairney looped the ball over the top of a punch drunk Millwall backline and Cavaliero sidestepped the Lions number one before finishing.

Ben Thompson, forced into the role of an overworked trapper, was replaced in the 75th minute. Jayson Molumby came on and the Brighton loanee played two of Millwall’s passes of the night.

Tom Bradshaw felt he had a consolation when he smartly headed in Murray Wallace’s cross but the assistant referee’s flag was up. Millwall had no joy, not even a little bit.

Added to that, Jiri Skalak suffered suspected ankle ligament damage. It means that the Czech Republic winger, who had come back after the summer intent on revitalising his fortunes, will join Jed Wallace in sitting out tomorrow’s long trip to Middlesbrough.

It can’t be emphasised enough that the Lions’ season will not be determined by games against Fulham, certainly not away.

What seemed to get a little lost in the social media meltdowns immediately afterwards is that Millwall are ninth in the table. It has still been a good start.

Confidence and belief should not be eroded by one heavy loss, no matter how emphatic it might have been.

PICTURES BY BRIAN TONKS

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