Fulham seal Premier League return as Mitrovic starts party early against Preston

Serbian striker scores twice to make it 40 goals for the season

Fulham 3 Preston North End 0

Fulham are back where they belong, that being the netherworld between the Championship and Premier League where the club has spent the last five summers. Each summer since 2017 has seen the club either promoted to or demoted from the top division.

With two goals from Aleksandar Mitrovic, taking him to 40 for the season, and another from Fabio Carvalho, two stars of the campaign made sure Fulham achieved their objective for the season. The planning starts now on how to avoid that state of summer limbo.

Marco Silva is set to manage his fourth Premier League club in just over five years and has almost as much to prove as Fulham. Having not dropped below a top-two position since the 13th match of the campaign and scored 98 goals, 33 more than anyone else, his team are more than worthy of their elevation. But as Norwich and Watford have shown this season and as the Cottagers themselves well know, Championship domination represents zero guarantee of comfort come August.

The incomplete but already towering Riverside Stand suggests modernisation as a possible answer to how Fulham might stop being a yo-yo club. But having spent close to £100 million on players for the doomed 2018-19 campaign and reported losses of £93 million for a similarly fated 2020-21 season, Shahid Khan, their American billionaire owner, will have to keep digging deep.

A similar set of players came down under Scott Parker and Silva and Khan surely must augment them with greater quality, even if promotion has been achieved with flair and fun, enterprising football.

After defeats to Coventry and Derby, merely edging over the line would have sufficed for Fulham. Nottingham Forest’s defeat of West Brom had added tension to what might instead have been a promotion party from the start. Preston, on a decent run and without relegation or promotion to concern them, might have been slippery.

The visitors began with zest. It took a clawing save from Marek Rodak to deny Ched Evans after Cameron Archer and Daniel Johnson's interchange had left the Fulham goalkeeper exposed. Rodak was soon asked to palm over Ben Whiteman's dig from distance.

Fulham began to make use of the space created by Preston's ambition. Mitrovic had scored against every team in the Championship this season other than Coventry and Preston. By the 10th minute, only Coventry remained. Joe Bryan surged in from the left, his angled pass finding the Serb in perfect position to stroke beyond Daniel Iversen. Embodying his club, Mitrovic is so potent in the Championship and yet has often been hugely disappointing in the higher echelon.

A neat interchange between Mitrovic and the Liverpool-bound Carvalho might have resulted in a second in the 25th minute, only for the teenager to fire wide, not long before Evans limped off, the striker booed by home fans as he departed.

Carvalho did not have to wait long, scoring from closer range with a flick of his left after Neeskens Kebano’s cross deflected into his path. And by the 42nd minute, the party could begin in earnest, Mitrovic firing under Iversen after Harry Wilson’s pass.

Not that the party was too raucous, a third promotion in six seasons felt low on novelty when considering what followed the previous two. Admittedly, it is hard to raise the roof on an entirely empty stand, though the Hammersmith End sounded happy enough, singing “stand up if you’re Premier League”.

The second half began almost like the first, Rodak making a fine save from Archer before Mitrovic was sent clear at the other end only for Iversen to win the one-on-one duel, deflecting the shot on to the crossbar. Preston’s Danish keeper then made a fine double stop from Carvalho and Mitrovic, heavily in the market for a hat-trick, as Fulham dominated possession and fans began to implore their heroes to shoot from all angles and distances.

With 15 minutes left, Carvalho left the field to a standing ovation, having recovered from what looked a hefty knock from a challenge from Bambo Diaby. And soon after, so did Mitrovic, no treble to his name but his tally of goals a brilliant achievement nonetheless.

Soon enough, the game having petered out, Fulham could celebrate being a Premier League club once again as fans emptied on to the pitch. Now to try and last longer than a season up there. – Guardian

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