Positives and negatives: Fulham 3-0 Preston North End

Cameron Ramsey 20th April 2022

We’ve only gone and done it. The Whites are going up, Cam has a misty-eyed account of the action for you all to savour and now, they’re really gonna believe us. What a night.

I just can’t believe how determined the reaction was from Marco Silva’s men. Preston North End really crossed Fulham at the wrong place, wrong time. Ryan Lowe’s Lilywhites had absolutely nothing to play for, they’re currently 15th, they brought 300 fans with them and given the immensity of the meeting for the hosts, a comprehensive paddling was always coming their way.

A supersonic first half was followed by a professionally navigated second, we bayed for more goal-mouth drama but the score had already been settled. Once that final whistle sounded, euphoria gripped the masses and I can only hope that by the time we welcome Luton Town, we’re champions undisputedly. We can parade with pride, we can plan for the not-so-distant future, and the procession to the trophy is well underway. Let’s get this party started!

Positives

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We are Premier League!

Real core memories of a generation have just been stitched into life itself. Kissing hallowed turf, soaking up a privileged sight from the centre circle only heroes tread, those impressions will never weaken and we can say, in ecstasy, that we were there and we were very much present. What Fulham Football Club has achieved this season is no miracle, it’s not a shock to the system, but it damn well feels like we’ve attained standards we’ve never risen to before and that, that is what made Tuesday evening’s showdown with Preston especially enchanting. Two consecutive losses led us to where we are now, a Premier League competitor, once more. A tense electricity hung in the atmosphere, the early stages of the game were tentatively balanced but when there’s something as precious as supremacy at stake, our fans are a pulsating stimulant. Craven Cottage was oscillating, reverberating, our corner of the capital was central to the footballing world and the stage was set for a gala like no other. Nerves subsided, a sense of courage surged across our historic auditorium and it bled into the boys that have made this season’s dream a reality.

When the Cottage sways as it did on April 19th, 2022, there isn’t a universal force that can stem the gravitational pull from the terraces. To those that have had to stomach my blue phrasing in H5 and to those that have shared my undiplomatic passion, for want of a better word: I am eternally blessed to have shared this season with you, and these past few months have proven why our club is worth loving immeasurably. The fandom, as it always does, propelled the Whites towards the most crucial three points we’ve possibly ever embraced, although our mission is not yet complete. The job, so to speak, is done, we are promoted, but we are not champions and the title is owed to Fulham, and Fulham only. One final push is bound to you, I, Silva and his personnel, and it’s our obligation to ensure we prevail unparalleled at the summit of a division that’s known to crown and kill reputations.

Mitro hits 40

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The entire planet and its moon has taken notice of his unearthly ability for months now, but with a fresh brace under his belt – taking his overall tally to a dizzying 40 goals in 38 outings – Aleksandar Mitrovic is homing in on another illustrious record and surely, with the bit clamped between his teeth, he won’t be denied his rightful license to the throne. With 4 games left to reach and even surpass Guy Whittingham’s long-standing haul of 42 in a single season, the odds on Mitro becoming the second division’s greatest scorer bar none are being slashed and even if he doesn’t ascend into a bracket of his own, he’s already rubber-stamped a Sky Bet return that won’t be touched. It’s written for the game’s deadliest marksman to forge new passages dedicated to his sovereignty and, though nothing is certain in this division, I’m adamant he will do the business in the famous black and white of SW6’s finest sporting establishment.

Aleksandar was painfully close to furthering his total at Pride Park, it annoyingly wasn’t to be, however in front of an ecstatic home support, Serbia’s all-time top goal scorer couldn’t resist a speaker box or two and he tortured the visitors’ back line senselessly. With goals either side of Fabio Carvalho’s deft dink, Mitro converted with conviction, steadying touches and stone-cold composure featured in both of his successful efforts before they were detonated and that’s a trademark of his that hasn’t been replicated by any other bagsman in existence, not to his extent. Less informed, lazy fans and journalists will brand Mitrovic a Premier League pretender, a fallible imposter that isn’t equipped to bargain a living in the top-flight but ladies and gentlemen of the jury, these numbers are indeed physical and they are shattering the very fabrics of football as we know it. Scoff if you dare, because Mitro will inevitably score and heed this, there’s a trigger-happy punisher coming your way really, really soon.

Rodak bounces back

An evening’s work that will do his flattened confidence an absolute solid. Marek Rodak’s Premier League credentials have been examined and thrown under a bus since his Coventry City catastrophes, he’s cut a shaken, vulnerable figure without a voice although on Tuesday, though he hadn’t much to keep him occupied, the Slovakia international bounced back astoundingly to claim a comfortable clean sheet and whether he starts next term or not, he still has the capacity to amaze.

At set-pieces, Marek organised his penalty area constructively, he banished in-swinging crosses without hesitation and when Preston prodded his concentration, his razor-sharp reflexes were primed and ready. Cameron Archer fired with purpose midway through the second half, a sculpted effort that could have clawed a consolation for the visitors but our stopper’s sudden agility palmed the net-bound strike onto the crossbar, a save that a standing ovation approved of. His distribution was measured, and he was also the architect behind our second of the night, having employed a route-one projectile, pinpointing Mitro perfectly. Our defensive solidity ensured that his outing was relatively comfortable although reliable ‘keepers, even after sticky spells, are always trained to anticipate the unexpected and to his glowing credit, Marek refused to be beaten and broken.

Big game Bryan

Whenever promotion’s mentioned even in earshot, Joe Bryan perks up comes to life. Virtually dormant for the majority of the campaign, Bryan was fielded at left-back once again and following a string of nondescript performances, the revitalised fullback awakened and he understood the assignment. The 28-year-old was dauntless, he challenged hard, tracked runners vigilantly and in the final third, his influence crafted a polished clear-cut chance that was duly stuck away by you know who.

The provider of our first of the night, of course, Joe danced inside from the left and dissected North End’s back four with a delicate dab into Mitro’s hunting ground and the striker, transfixed on the target, complimented our fullback’s sexy slip in behind with a swift punch. It’s not usually what gets me going but this sequence of foreplay can be excused. Technically, Bryan’s design is offensive, his athleticism enables him to venture his respective touchline consistently and his efforts at both ends of the pitch were both earnest and assiduous. His flaws are regularly pronounced, he is not without his drawbacks as a left-back but with a motive, sensing the magnitude of the occasion, the sporadically-trusted wingman held his own and was a persistent imposer of responsibility. For many, he was our unsung Man of the Match, and I couldn’t agree more. Wembley Play-Off Final vibes, just without the outrageous goals.

TC’s hard-hitting authority

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A captain, leading by staunch example. Tom Cairney’s renowned for his elegance but alongside Harrison Reed, and up against Alistair McCann and company, the chief producer of opportunity wielded a ruthlessness that stunted Preston’s enjoyment in the middle of the park, a hard-hitting inclination that’s unfamiliar but wholly mandatory. Bewilderingly, TC was booked for a tough collision with McCann, an altercation where both men were equally engaged, and after spending a few minutes on the deck to compose himself, the 31-year-old continued to operate with the same drive and authority, and that has to be commended.

Encounters have often passed the playmaker by where physical altercations are concerned, he can certainly take a knock but on Tuesday, he was the enforcer administering tough lessons, a role reversal the signifies command and prestige in the heat of the moment. Tom’s awareness on the ball is imperious, he evaded onrushing dispossessors like a black slope slalom skier and when he was provoked to lay down the letter of the law, he exacted justice firmly. Cairney recognises what it really takes to prosper in the top-flight, it requires finesse, a studied sensibility and above all else, stubbornness. Midfielders either remain relevant or they’re overshadowed and TC, albeit in a Championship environment, was the presiding CEO of forthright industry.

Kebano’s direct effect

An out-and-out wing weapon that leaves fullbacks gasping for thin air, the contrast in styles between Neeskens Kebano and Bobby Decordova-Reid is profound and with many calling for the DR Congo international to be reinstated to the starting XI, his impact was immediately eruptive. Kebano’s wired to inflict misery upon his direct opponent and Sepp van den Berg was hurled through his paces instantly. Tosin Adarabioyo located Neeskens with imperious switches throughout and with the byline in view, the 30-year-old burst at Preston’s back line, hemming the visitors back, and it’s his insistent impulsiveness that sets him apart along the channels. BDR would have retrieved possession and retreated at the prospect of committing his man, whereas Kebano measures his prey up and cuts them down to size.

His application was constant, he played a pivotal part in our second of the evening and as the game wore on, the explosive No.7 severed tendons to breach our opponents’ penetrable penalty area. Neeskens is always looking to incorporate his teammates, he could’ve been greedy in the closing stages to slam our 4th of the night but he’s perceptive, he shares a similar intelligence with Bobby, however he implements his judgement unremittingly and his primary duty is to attack and show no mercy. This has been his best season in a Fulham shirt, he’s welcomed the challenge of elevating his output and the benefits of his desire have translated fluently onto the turf. This season in particular, when Kebano shakes, rattles and rolls, the Whites showcase carnival football that mesmerises.

Negatives

None, not one

That’s right, they’ll be no nit-picking today, not a sausage of criticism because for once, I am stunned to silence. Even Antonee Robinson is safe. Until the next time, folks!