Fulham have enjoyed a meteoric rise in the past two seasons under Slavisa Jokanovic as they bid for a return to top flight football. Aside from a Jorge Mendes backed Wolves, the west London side were arguably the most impressive team in the league this season.
A 23 match unbeaten run provided the backbone to their season and almost led the Cottagers to an automatic promotion spot. A third place finish left Fulham as the best positioned side to emerge victorious from the playoffs, a reputation they lived up to with a 1-0 win over fourth place Aston Villa in the final, securing promotion back to the Premier League.
1. League Performance
After two seasons flirting with relegation in the Championship, Slavisa Jokanovic finally got his Fulham side to push for promotion last season. Fulham lost their playoff semi final tie with Reading, condemning them to another season of Championship football, so they had high expectations for this season.
Initially, it was a nightmare of a start as Fulham won just four of their first 17 games. Fulham were struggling down in the lower reaches of the table but the club turned it around during the second half of the season. They only lost twice in their next 28 games, driving them up to third place. Finishing two points behind Cardiff was a disappointment in the end, but put them in good stead for a second successive playoffs.
Fulham recovered a 1-0 deficit from their away leg at Derby, cruising past the Rams at Craven Cottage to set up a tense playoff final encounter with Aston Villa. Despite being reduced to ten men with 20 minutes to play, Fulham were not perturbed as they held on to their early lead at Wembley, securing promotion to top off a great campaign for the club.
2. Domestic Cup Performance
The cups probably came too early in the season for Fulham, during their slow start to the season, and their performances reflected that. They suffered a disappointing early League Cup exit against League One opposition Bristol Rovers.
They were also eliminated in the third round of the FA Cup against Premier League strugglers Southampton. Fans always hope for a cup run but the early exits probably benefited Fulham’s promotion ambitions. The lack of distraction and extra midweek fixtures to play allowed Jokanovic to stay the course and select his strongest squad as they chased down Cardiff.
3. Best Player
No surprise here. Ryan Sessegnon is undoubtedly going to be a star, and he has already attracted suitors from Europe’s elite this summer. After being moved up to a winger position from left back under Jokanovic, Sessegnon hit the ground running. Fulham’s top scorer this season with 15 goals, he also delivered six assists as he inspired his side’s tilt towards the Premier League.
At just 17 years of age, the young winger has a bright future in football, and Fulham will hope to retain his services for another season after winning promotion but could face a battle to keep hold of their most prised asset.
The big clubs may want to see how the young winger adapts to life in the top flight before investing heavily though. The Cottagers would hope at least to have Sessegnon back on loan should he be sold as they face a difficult campaign in their first season back in the Premier League.
4. Worst Player
Attack was a problem for Fulham in the first half of the season, despite previously investing heavily in that department. The January loan addition of Aleksandar Mitrovic proved a masterstroke for Jokanovic as his 12 goals helped propel Fulham to promotion and he will surely be a summer transfer target for the club.
Fulham may look to partially fund that move by attempting to recoup some of their sizeable £9m investment in Jose Fonte’s little brother - Rui Fonte - this past summer. Fonte didn’t have an awful campaign but his three goal return does not reflect the investment the club made in him. Having to recruit another striker in January after already bringing in four new forwards in summer does not reflect well on Fonte.
Another of those forwards - Yohan Mollo - had an even worse campaign, making just six appearances for the club before having his contract torn up and being allowed to leave in January. He did arrive on a free in summer though, so little ventured, little gained. The club would have expected more of Fonte and will likely make finding a replacement for the Portuguese frontman a summer priority.
Jokanovic previously took over in a turbulent season for Watford, becoming the fourth manager in the 14/15 season, winning 15 of his first 20 games and guiding the club to automatic promotion. Fulham called upon the Serbian with the club in serious danger of relegation to League One.
He has not only kept the club up, he has built on that with sixth place and third place finishes in his first two full seasons at the club. Jokanovic increased his reputation further by securing a second Premier League promotion in three calendar years. Fulham will surely look to rectify Watford's error by offering him an improved contract for next season.
There’s not a bad word to be said about Jokanovic or his coaching staff, they have breathed new life into Fulham and are sure to be competitive again next season at top flight level.
6. Overall Grade
Despite a modest start and disappointing domestic cup run, the season has been a huge success for Fulham. As a Championship side they can’t be expected to compete on all fronts, they have smashed their initial target of maintaining a playoff place, ending their four year exile from the Premier League.
The club has come from nowhere, from struggling under previous managers Felix Magath and Kit Symons. They upset many Championship favourites this season on their run up to promotion, including an impressive 2-0 win against runaway leaders Wolves.
With a few key additions to the squad they are sure to cause more upsets in the top flight, and will already fancy their chances of survival next season after heading into it on the back of a hugely impressive platform established in this campaign.
Overall Grade: A+