Cottagers to lay foundations for EPL stay

Fulham celebrating after beating London rivals Brentford 2-1 in the Championship play-off final behind closed doors at Wembley on Tuesday.
Fulham celebrating after beating London rivals Brentford 2-1 in the Championship play-off final behind closed doors at Wembley on Tuesday.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Fulham have been a perennial yo-yo club, with two promotions to and two relegations from the English Premier League in their last seven campaigns.

But after securing a return to the top flight at the first time of asking with a 2-1 extra-time victory over Brentford in the Championship play-off final on Tuesday, manager Scott Parker is hopeful their stay will not be short-lived.

Defender Joe Bryan was the unlikely hero for the Cottagers, who finished fourth in the English second-tier standings, behind their Wembley opponents only on goal difference.

He first caught out Brentford goalkeeper David Raya with a deep free kick in the 105th minute, before slotting home three minutes from time.

Defender Henrik Dalsgaard pulled a goal back for Brentford in the final seconds, but there was no time for a comeback by the Bees, who were searching for a place in the top flight for the first time since 1947.

The last time Fulham were promoted, they blew over £100 million (S$180 million) on flops like Cameroonian Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa and Ivorian Jean Michael Seri, only to drop down a division after a dismal term.

From the perspective of many Fulham fans, there was a distinct lack of commitment from the majority of those big-money arrivals and Parker does not want that to be the case this time round.

The 39-year-old confirmed the club would not be spending wildly again in a bid to strengthen their top-flight status, even though promotion is reportedly worth about £170 million.

"There were some clear errors made last time," the former Fulham and England midfielder said. "We will learn from that. We need to learn from that.

"You can't build teams with drastic changes, drastic swings of players coming in. We're going into the best league in the world, the best players, the best teams... it's a brutal league and I realise the challenge ahead."

Parker, who took over the club in February last year after Claudio Ranieri was sacked, is considered to be part of a bright new generation of managers, including Chelsea's Frank Lampard and Mikel Arteta of Arsenal.​

  • Scott Parker's tactical nous

  • BLUNTING BRENTFORD'S EDGE 

    The Bees were the top-scoring side in the Championship last season, netting 80 goals, three more than winners Leeds and runners-up West Brom.

    Parker fielded a side at Wembley that was, on paper, more defensive than expected, but his high-pressing tactics threw Brentford off their customary attacking game, limiting them to just four shots on target in 120 minutes.

    PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT 

    The former Fulham midfielder had identified a tendency by Bees goalkeeper David Raya to stand far off his line from dead-ball situations so he asked his players to work on it in training.

    It paid off as the Spaniard was left flummoxed - he had anticipated a cross into the box rather than a direct shot - as Fulham opened the scoring from 45 yards via Joe Bryan's free kick.

    LEARNING FROM PAST CLASHES 

    Brentford did the double over Fulham in the league with a 3-0 aggregate, but Fulham were finally able to get the better of their opponents in their biggest match of the term thanks to Parker.

    He told his first XI to track back and deny the Bees, particularly their front three, space and they followed his instructions to a tee.

Pundits like Liam Rosenior, a former Fulham player, told Sky Sports he has the makings of a "top-level manager".

But Parker said that he was simply taking it one step at a time with the west London club.

"What we're trying to build and what we're trying to ingrain in these players, in this football club, is some core foundations," he added.

"Sometimes, those core foundations get you far in life. You can have as much talent as you want but, if you're not building your football club on concrete and you're building it on sand, then in the end, it will be the roller-coaster ride.

"I hope we can grow gradually. It's going to be tough but, if we can't, we have core foundations that we always fall back on."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 06, 2020, with the headline 'Cottagers to lay foundations for EPL stay'. Print Edition | Subscribe