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Aleksandar Mitrovic: From Newcastle outcast to Fulham hero

Thursday 12th April 2018

Aleksandar Mitrovic had been on borrowed time at Newcastle United. He was unwanted and obviously, still is. Rafael Benitez couldn’t stand the sight of the Serb. Many managers would do likewise; his work ethics on the pitch and attitude off it extremely vile. So when Fulham came to town in January, it was best he went along. Three months on, he’s become something of a demigod there.

Newcastle finished the 2014/15 campaign without many cops. Having made significant leap under Alan Pardew, they somewhat retarded. Eight successive matches bereft of victory, Pardew’s ghost remained at St. James’ Park. Even after moving on to Crystal Palace. John Carver overwhelmingly enchanted.   

Steve McClaren set sight to erase those impending doom. He admittedly grasped the Toon Army lacked bite in attack, a physical midfield presence was visibly absent too. While Papiss Cisse was no longer to be trusted, young Ayoze Perez could make do with some help. In the middle, Cheick Tiote was passed his peak. To that effect, Mitrovic and Georginio Wijnaldum were signed from Anderlecht and PSV respectively.

Similar to tourist forwards before him, Mitrovic aimed to relive the golden Alan Shearer days. “I hope I can play like him for this club,” the Serb prayed. Judging by antecedence, it seemed a low-hanging fruit. In his maiden season aged 18, he was the top scorer as Partisan clinched the Serbian League in 2013. Fifty strikes followed in two years in Belgium. Quite phenomenal stuff.

Though powerful, robust, with a fierce right foot, disciplinary lapses remained a great concern. Twenty seconds into his debut against Southampton, the 23-year-old was cautioned for a brainless, unnecessary and utterly unprovoked act. Some 20 days later, he bagged another card – this time red just 15 minutes into the home defeat to Arsenal. Yet to break his duck nor make any meaningful impact, not only was Mitrovic grappling with the English game but himself.

He eventually found his feet with nine Premier League goals, however, it was rather too late to save the Magpies from going down. Another red in the season's final victory over Tottenham meant he would miss the first four Championship games. A frustrated Benitez beamed elsewhere for goals. He brought two at once; Dwight Gayle and Daryl Murphy.

Gayle was the main man in the club's historic EFL title-winning campaign. Benitez’s team struck 85 times with the ex-Palace star notching above one-quarter by himself. While Murphy, even with a third-less game time, racked up six, Mitrovic managed two less. Yet worst travails were ahead. Mitrovic wasn’t considered for a league start heading into the winter. Not after another unnecessary dismissal in a cameo appearance against West Ham in August. Benitez was seemingly harbouring him till a suitor shows up. Fulham was happy to try. Jackpot. 

Although a division lower, Mitrovic is enjoying the game again; earning elusive plaudits too. Teammate Ryan Sessegnon told the Cottagers' official website.

"He's on fire at the moment. All you have to do is keep feeding him the ball and you know he's going to score the goals for us."

Indeed the Serb is blazing hot. He has nine goals in 12 starts as Slavisa Jokanovic's team keep hold of a monumental 19 games unbeaten run. Mitrovic goals have been helpful as they climbed from 17th place to second. His efforts were rewarded with PFA Player of the Month award. But not devoid of the same critical issue with three cautions already. There will certainly be more goals before the season's end; accompanied by cards. 

Toby Prince

If the sport has 11-men on each side, a ball and lasts for 90 minutes then I'll write about it. Simply put, I'm an unrepentant soccer freak that other freaks will, however, call a geek. I do find time for music when not watching the beautiful game, though and have been known to produce the odd track. 

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