Match ends, Fulham 3, Southampton 2.
Fulham 3-2 Southampton: Aleksandar Mitrovic double earns Claudio Ranieri first win
Claudio Ranieri labelled Aleksandar Mitrovic "one of the best goalscorers in Europe" after the striker's double helped Fulham clinch victory in his first game as the Cottagers' boss.
Fulham were seeking only their second Premier League win of the season after Ranieri replaced sacked Slavisa Jokanovic, and it duly arrived after an eventful encounter between the two strugglers.
Mitrovic, 24, had gone six Premier League games without scoring but struck either side of half-time to move the former Newcastle forward to seven Premier League goals this season.
Only Manchester City's Sergio Aguero has scored more, although Mitrovic is the top scorer in the Nations League with six from four matches for Serbia.
"I asked my team to make a lot of crosses for Mitrovic because he is amazing in the box," said Ranieri. "He can do everything in his career."
The Italian was afforded a warm reception as he made his way to the technical area, but it was an unhappy start as Stuart Armstrong poked home to reward Southampton's bright opening.
Fulham shrugged off their early lethargy to turn it around before half-time through Mitrovic's angled header, followed by Andre Schurrle's far post finish from Ryan Sessegnon's cross.
Southampton, who will feel they had opportunities to claim a point, were back on level terms eight minutes after the break with another from Armstrong, flashed high past Sergio Rico.
Fulham were soon back in front when Mitrovic volleyed past Alex McCarthy, and despite some late pressure Saints are now nine league games without a win as speculation mounts about the future of manager Mark Hughes.
Ranieri's satisfactory start
The thunderous noise that greeted the final whistle at Craven Cottage was laced with both elation and relief as Fulham closed out the first win under Ranieri, after some backs-to-the-wall defending in the closing moments.
Ranieri saw all sides of Fulham in his opening game but he also saw what he wanted most of all - three points and real fight on offer after some timid performances left them bottom of the table.
Fulham's defence still creaked under serious pressure, despite that late determination, and they were grateful for heroics from goalkeeper Sergio Rico.
Ranieri received a warm reception but his response was low-key. It was back to business in the Premier League for the man who claimed the title so spectacularly at Leicester City in 2015-16.
It was a mixed first half but Ranieri cut an animated figure on occasion, especially when Fulham scored and in that frantic finale.
After Fulham's poor start, this was all about the result rather than the performance - and his first aim was achieved.
Ranieri witnessed a side that needs work but that also has quality he can work on, especially in attack.
Hughes feeling the heat
Hughes entered his confrontation of the Premier League strugglers, fending off mounting speculation that his job was under threat and may even be riding on the outcome of this game.
Southampton actually played well for spells but paid a heavy price for failing to make the most of their early superiority, which brought Armstrong's goal and should have yielded more.
Ultimately, this is another damaging result for both Southampton and Hughes as they extend a dismal sequence to nine league games without a win.
Saints were sloppy in defence as all three goals came from crosses they could and should have dealt with, and have now plunged further into trouble.
Hughes is talking a confident game but results continue to elude him and, if this game does not decide his fate, it certainly increases the urgency for him to secure a victory.
Ranieri can build around key duo
As Ranieri studies his squad for strengths and weaknesses in the early days of his reign, he will already be aware of the importance of Mitrovic and Sessegnon.
Ranieri will be looking to seal up that porous Fulham defence, but this win will only have emphasised that he has two potent weapons in the Serb and the 18-year-old.
Sessegnon, understandably, has rough edges to smooth out in his defensive work and was guilty of sloppiness in the build-up to Southampton's second goal - but he has the panache to make a difference at the other end as Fulham look to work their way out of trouble.
Mitrovic, however, is the real danger man after finding his home at Craven Cottage following his struggles at Newcastle United.
He has seen his Premier League form tail off in recent weeks but he delivered here and was given a standing ovation both when he was replaced late on and when he made his way back to the dressing room at the final whistle.
Sessegnon was also influential - crossing for Schurrle to score, then defying his diminutive stature to provide a flicked header for Mitrovic's winner.
They are the duo Ranieri will lean on heavily.
Man of the match - Aleksandar Mitrovic (Fulham)
What they said - 'We're scratching our heads'
Fulham boss Claudio Ranieri: "It was important to come back and come back with a victory. It is a little step but important for the enthusiasm and everything.
"It is important to continue in this way. Now we have to forget what we did and improve. Next is Chelsea and it is important to maintain ambition and mentality.
"I am confident with my team. We made some good things but we have to work hard to improve on defence."
Southampton boss Mark Hughes: "We have had similar stories in other games. We scored a good goal and then all of a sudden we find ourselves behind in a game we dominated.
"The two goals are poor from our point of view. We talk about fundamentals until we are blue in the face. We allowed Mitrovic too much space on two occasions. You look back on the game and we are scratching our heads considering what we produced.
"I don't think there is a huge amount wrong with how we are going about our business. For the most part we need to keep on going and make sure we are better in the key moments that define a result."
Match stats - Hughes' low win rate
- Mark Hughes has won just three of his 21 Premier League games in charge of Southampton (14.3%), the worst win rate of any Saints manager in the competition (minimum 20 games).
- Fulham picked up their first Premier League win in 10 matches, losing seven of the previous nine.
- Fulham are without a clean sheet in their last 17 Premier League games, conceding at least twice in 15 of those.
- Stuart Armstrong scored a competitive brace for the first time since December 2016 for Celtic against Partick.
Fulham have a London derby away to Ranieri's former club Chelsea next Sunday (12:00 GMT). Southampton play their rearranged EFL Cup fourth-round tie away to Leicester on Tuesday (19:45 GMT) before hosting Manchester United in the Premier League on Saturday (17:30 GMT).
- 26MawsonBooked at 45mins
- 20Le Marchand
- 24SeriSubstituted forJohansenat 68'minutesBooked at 90mins
- 14SchürrleSubstituted forKamaraat 74'minutes
- 3R Sessegnon
- 9MitrovicSubstituted forAyitéat 86'minutes
- 2Cédric Soares
- 6HoedtBooked at 73mins
- 23HøjbjergBooked at 68mins
- 17ArmstrongSubstituted forObafemiat 81'minutesBooked at 90mins
- 10AustinSubstituted forElyounoussiat 68'minutes
- Michael Oliver
- Shots on Target
Second Half ends, Fulham 3, Southampton 2.
Hand ball by Matt Targett (Southampton).
Attempt saved. Pierre-Emile Højbjerg (Southampton) left footed shot from outside the box is saved in the centre of the goal.
Attempt blocked. Pierre-Emile Højbjerg (Southampton) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Maya Yoshida.
Delay over. They are ready to continue.
Michael Obafemi (Southampton) is shown the yellow card.
Stefan Johansen (Fulham) is shown the yellow card.
Delay in match Sergio Rico (Fulham) because of an injury.
Attempt blocked. Michael Obafemi (Southampton) right footed shot from the right side of the six yard box is blocked.
Attempt saved. Michael Obafemi (Southampton) right footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by Mohamed Elyounoussi with a cross.
Attempt missed. Pierre-Emile Højbjerg (Southampton) header from the centre of the box misses to the left. Assisted by Cédric Soares with a cross following a corner.
Corner, Southampton. Conceded by Maxime Le Marchand.
Corner, Southampton. Conceded by Stefan Johansen.
Attempt blocked. Cédric Soares (Southampton) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
Attempt missed. Mohamed Elyounoussi (Southampton) left footed shot from the centre of the box misses to the left. Assisted by Nathan Redmond with a cross.
Attempt missed. Michael Obafemi (Southampton) right footed shot from the centre of the box is just a bit too high. Assisted by Mario Lemina.
Substitution, Fulham. Floyd Ayité replaces Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Offside, Fulham. Tom Cairney tries a through ball, but Ryan Sessegnon is caught offside.
Delay over. They are ready to continue.
Delay in match Alfie Mawson (Fulham) because of an injury.
Foul by Mohamed Elyounoussi (Southampton).
Alfie Mawson (Fulham) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Substitution, Southampton. Michael Obafemi replaces Stuart Armstrong.
Wesley Hoedt (Southampton) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Aboubakar Kamara (Fulham).
Delay over. They are ready to continue.
Delay in match Cédric Soares (Southampton) because of an injury.
Substitution, Fulham. Aboubakar Kamara replaces André Schürrle.
Wesley Hoedt (Southampton) is shown the yellow card.
Foul by Wesley Hoedt (Southampton).
Aleksandar Mitrovic (Fulham) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt saved. Pierre-Emile Højbjerg (Southampton) left footed shot from the left side of the box is saved in the top centre of the goal. Assisted by Nathan Redmond.
Substitution, Southampton. Mohamed Elyounoussi replaces Charlie Austin.
Substitution, Fulham. Stefan Johansen replaces Jean Michael Seri.
Pierre-Emile Højbjerg (Southampton) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Attempt blocked. Aleksandar Mitrovic (Fulham) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Tom Cairney.
Pierre-Emile Højbjerg (Southampton) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Aleksandar Mitrovic (Fulham).
Goal! Fulham 3, Southampton 2. Aleksandar Mitrovic (Fulham) right footed shot from the centre of the box to the bottom right corner. Assisted by Ryan Sessegnon with a headed pass.