After a barren four-game beginning to the 2020/21 season for both, Sheffield United and Fulham broke their respective ducks on Sunday as a 1-1 draw was played out at Bramall Lane.
In a dramatic final quarter of an hour, it was the Cottagers who took the lead thanks to a superb individual goal from Ademola Lookman, but their advantage was blown in the closing stages as Billy Sharp converted from the penalty spot with just five minutes left to play.
Fulham manager Scott Parker addressed the media virtually after the match — here are his most noteworthy quotes, as per the official Fulham website.
On points dropped
For Fulham, it was paramount to get off the mark here and build some confidence with the league season intensifying as the festive period edges closer. It can be so easy for teams at the bottom of the standings to get left behind at this time of year, and it's usually the first indication of a club destined for relegation.
A point away to a team that were challenging for European qualification last season is certainly respectable, but this will probably be viewed as two points squandered for the Cottagers — not just given the quality of chances they created during the match, but also their inability to hold onto the lead they gained quite late on.
“Overall I’m a little bit disappointed," said Parker. "Obviously when you get your nose in front in the game at 1-0 with 10 minutes to go you want to try and see the game out. Saying that, we had some big chances at that point to maybe see the game out even more, but it wasn’t mean to be.”
On tactical tweaks
Fulham navigated their fair share of close shaves in the first 45 minutes, with goalkeeper Alphonse Areola called into action on numerous occasions in a fascinating duel with Blades striker Oli McBurnie whose disbelief that he hadn't scored grew as the half went on.
But they looked a different team following the break: more direct, decisive and dynamic going forward with wide players Lookman and Ivan Cavaleiro looking particular threats — the former's impressive strike to break the deadlock was a mark both of his own qualities and the attacking style that Fulham were trying to implement in the second half.
“In the first half there were elements that we didn’t like, and we changed that at half time," the manager revealed. "In the second half it was really pleasing the way we looked, we looked a real threat. We added some speed into the team and looked really dynamic going forward and really caused them a lot of problems.”
On misery for Mitrović
The caveat to a largely positive afternoon's work was the misfortune of Fulham's arch marksman Aleksandar Mitrović. The striker put himself about well and was regularly involved in his side's build-up play, but very little came off for the 26-year old.
Having fired over from the penalty spot just before the hour mark, the Serbian missed a handful of further chances in the dying stages of the match and even conceded the penalty that cost his side the lead with just five minutes to play.
Parker made no attempt to deny that his striker had struggled: “He’s had a tough day, there’s no denying that, he’ll be the first to admit it — a missed penalty and then two other chances which, by his standards, he usually puts in the net.”
On how Mitrović will react
This was merely a bad day at the office for one of Fulham's key players in their bid to beat the drop this season. Mitrović topped the Championship scoring charts alongside Ollie Watkins last season, and his goals will again be a determining factor in the team's success.
With such weight on his shoulders, it's paramount that the Serbian maintains his confidence and gears himself up to go again in the coming weeks, and the manager has every confidence that Mitrović will learn and recover from his difficult afternoon.
“This is a player that has scored a lot of penalties before and this is a sport, and sometimes in sport you have bad days and some days it goes like that. What’s going to be the turning factor and the stature of the man is how he reacts, and I have no doubt he’ll react in a positive way and he’ll come back firing.”
On the debutants
With an international break separating Fulham's defeat at Wolverhampton Wanderers early in October and their trip to Sheffield, this was the first opportunity for a number of new recruits to prove their worth following their acquisition towards the end of the transfer window.
Sunday saw debuts for Tosin Adarabioyo and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, as well as a first start for Lookman who had impressed off the bench against Brentford in the EFL Cup. Parker was delighted with what he saw.
“I was really pleased with those boys," he said. "These are players that have only been in the building a short space of time — certainly Ruben and Tosin. When you’re coming into a new environment you need to quickly pick up what I expect from players. They brought their qualities to the game and I thought it was a team that I liked.”