Fulham promoted as Mitrovic reaches 40-goal mark

Fulham crushed Preston to seal their return to the Premier League as Aleksandar Mitrovic’s brace took their season tally to 40 goals.

The Serbian striker scored twice in the first half, sandwiching an eye-catching strike from teenager Fabio Carvalho.

Mitrovic was denied a hat-trick by Preston keeper Daniel Iversen – but it made no difference to the result as the win confirmed Marco Silva’s side promotion.

Fulham could effectively win the title on Saturday if they win at second-placed Bournemouth.

The Cottagers may have fallen behind early on, with Marek Rodak called into action to thwart Ched Evans and then rock Ben Whiteman’s long-range drive over the bar.

But any hint of nervousness quickly evaporated in the ninth minute when Joe Bryan gained possession and burst down the left flank to set up Mitrovic, who slipped the ball between Iversen’s legs.

Carvalho and Harrison Reed nearly extended the lead as the home side took control, repeatedly clipping the Preston defense.

It was Carvalho who finally grabbed Fulham’s second in the 34th minute, heading home on his left foot after Neeskens Kebano’s cross deflected perfectly into his path.

Mitrovic made it 3-0 just before half-time, reaching the 40-goal mark after another incisive break down the left, with Harry Wilson providing the assist.

Fulham celebrate Mitrovic’s second goal, which led them 3-0

North End nearly cut the deficit early in the second half as Rodak made another fingertip save to thwart Cameron Archer, pushing his attempt into the woodwork.

But there was to be no dramatic comeback from Preston – nor a third goal for Mitrovic, who had two more attempts denied by Iversen and was eventually substituted with a quarter of an hour remaining.

Although Neco Williams’ effort from distance whistled a bit, Fulham had to settle for the three goals – and the victory that sealed their third promotion in five years.

Fulham seal a quick return to the Premier League

The Clinical Cottagers have zipped through the Championship and look set to break a number of records as they win promotion to the top tier with four games to go.

Marco Silva’s swashbuckling mark of fast transitions and fast passing has seen them score 98 goals so far.

They could yet beat Manchester City’s Premier League second division record, since the Premier League launched in 1992, of 108 goals.

Aleksandar Mitrovic opened the scoring in the ninth minute

Silva’s men also made history in January when they scored 19 goals in three games and were the first English side in 88 years to score six or more goals in three consecutive games.

Serbian striker Mitrovic’s 40 goals – already another league record – helped propel Fulham out of sight at the top of the table and all eyes will be on him at the start of next season to see if he can finally recreate his scintillating league form against the country’s best defenses in the Premier League.

The west London club have been something of a yo-yo club in recent seasons, with back-to-back promotions and relegations to and from the Premier League every season since their 2017-18 play-off final win over Aston Villa .

Analysis

Emma Jones, BBC Radio London

When Marco Silva became Fulham’s new manager, he knew he had the job of leading the team straight into the Premier League.

His first task was to rebuild a team that was heavily loan dependent under Scott Parker in the top flight. But also to restore confidence to players who will have had the feeling of not having played as they had hoped, or not having had the chance, during another season of relegation.

Harrison Reed (right) hugs Fabio Carvalho after the teenager’s goal doubled Fulham’s lead against Preston

New signing Harry Wilson made an instant impact with an opening day goal. While a 5-1 win in Fulham’s first away game at Huddersfield provided an early indication of what the side could achieve. The big win also included a first of several goals for Aleksandar Mitrovic and one from young star Fabio Carvalho, as he began to make headlines which should lead to a big move to Liverpool.

Wilson seems to have been the best of the new additions, with Silva ultimately relying on the old guard to get the results. And while there is plenty of praise for Mitrovic, Fulham are far from a one-man team with ‘Captain America’ Tim Ream one of several players to have had a great season.

The questions, however, remain the same. What lessons have the club learned from previous promotions to ensure they stay in place this time around?

Are the players who put them in place good enough to maintain them? And will the new additions be the right solution to meet the challenge ahead?

Fulham head coach Marco Silva:

“All season he (Mitrovic) has been exceptional. I have to manage his condition – you know how he can play with his energy when he’s fresh.

“There was a lot of energy from the first minute. We had to get the job done tonight and we should be proud of what we achieved.

“We delivered to the club and the fans who deserved it. I’m proud of the players because that was the goal from day one – automatic promotion.

“It’s been a fantastic season for the fans. Last season was really tough for all of them and we did it for them.”

Preston manager Ryan Lowe told BBC Radio Lancashire:

“Congratulations to Fulham. I thought we could have scored in the first five minutes and then maybe the game will change a bit.

“But you can’t give a team like Fulham the scoring opportunities that we did – they will punish you and we found ourselves 3-0 down.

“You just have to look at the star man scoring the goals and that’s the difference – they have that quality.

“I thought we were much better in the second half, but in the end we were outclassed in the first half.”

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