Fulham can avoid imperfect hat-trick with Silva bullet

Fulham can avoid imperfect hat-trick with Silva bullet

by Emily Smith
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Fulham and Marco Silva will hope to make a success of what will be fourth bites of the Premier League cherry for both team and manager.

It was wholly appropriate that Fulham’s promotion back to the Premier League was confirmed in a victory secured early and with the minimum of fuss. In many ways, the 3-0 triumph over Preston was indicative of a season combatted with overwhelming firepower and victories aplenty.

It would be easy to suggest that Fulham have only met expectations rather than exceeded them – mainly because that’s true – but it is no less cause for celebration, nor any fewer sighs of relief, that a Championship campaign which has seen many big teams falter has been expertly navigated.

Fulham were expected to go up. Fulham were expected to be champions. Expectation and reality are scarcely the same thing in the second tier of English football. But at no time this season have Fulham looked like failing. Even around the time of their Christmas and New Year wobble, it was Bournemouth who were being caught up while the Cottagers remained homely at the top of the table.

Both Fulham and manager Marco Silva have the chance to right their Premier League wrongs of recent years. Nine months ago, before a ball had been kicked, we described this appointment as a chance to rectify mistakes and restore reputations for both club and individual; with three games of the season remaining, that has proven to be a masterstroke.

But the next step is the one that counts. Falling at the first hurdle has been avoided. That was the best they could do this season. Next up is when it really counts: making it work in the top flight. This will be Fulham’s fourth taste of the Premier League after a decade-long debut stretch followed by two individual, season-long sojourns. They will be desperately seeking a second campaign to avoid the imperfect hat-trick.

Should he stay beyond the summer, this will also be Silva’s fourth club managed in the Premier League. Hull City, Watford and Everton have all experienced his particular managerial stylings.

But only with the Hornets did he benefit from a pre-season before taking the helm and even at that point, the Toffees had distracting designs on the Portuguese. For the first time in his English coaching career since daring to come to these shores – and specifically Humberside, taking the place of a good, honest PFM – Silva is settled, calm and happy.

Moshiri’s indecision, Keane’s rebuke – how Silva’s Everton demise unfolded

He isn’t one for providing soundbites, nor making the football about him. He is happy to guide the strings and let his players do the talking with silky, smooth, dulcet tones. This team can go a long way next season. They’re not the best team to ever be promoted from this level. Hell, they’re likely not even the best Fulham team promoted from this level; Jean Tigana’s side have that sewn up. But they are a hell of a lot better than both Slavisa Jokanovic and Scott Parker’s Cottagers, who each came crashing straight back down. Fulham have a recent penchant for signing myriad players while not addressing the key issues within the squad and it has thoroughly undermined them.

They are far from perfect this time around, but they are far closer to where they need to be than either of the last two times, and with a manager who still possesses burnt fingertips from his time at that level, should be in a good position to make this a longer stay in the top flight.

There is the obvious awareness that the cycle of promotion-relegation-promotion-relegation has to end at some point. You don’t want the roulette wheel to stop while it’s going down. Fulham can look towards next season already. Keeping record-breaking top scorer Aleksandar Mitrovic and his 40 goals and counting are crucial. Too many are quick to put him in the Robert Earnshaw, Michael Chopra and Dwight Gayle group of being too good for the Championship and not of the level required for the top flight. Mitrovic is about to enter his prime and will be coming off the back of a stellar campaign in which his temperament and all-round game have improved, too.

Fabio Carvalho is on the verge of at last joining Liverpool, but could return on loan to Craven Cottage next season to further his development. As ever with Fulham this decade, defensive reinforcements are required. Neco Williams could do worse than to make his loan move from Anfield permanent but Fulham cannot rely on Tim Ream once again at the back, while a goalkeeper is needed for added confidence.

It is important to remember that quality is always better than quantity; Fulham should heed that when it comes to the summer transfer window. It will give them a far better chance to staying up to build around the excellent foundations they already have in place.

For now, though, Fulham can celebrate with time to spare that they are back where they feel they belong – and almost certainly as champions. Everything is better than last time they went up. They need only look at Parker’s relative struggles to entertain and convince Bournemouth fans he is the right man for the job long-term to realise how good they now have it.

It is easy to joke that Fulham confirmed their relegation back to the Championship in 12 months with that win over Preston. But their summer will be key and near-neighbours Brentford have shown that solid foundations can be built upon.

Fulham have a third bite at the Premier League cherry in five years. Don’t be surprised if this time turns out to be a longer spell back.

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