Fulham 3 Preston North End 0 verdict: Aleksandar Mitrovic is PNE's nemesis once again as Cottagers book their Premier League return

Aleksandar Mitrovic in the Championship is akin to an Australian Test batsman playing Sunday village green cricket.

By Dave Seddon
Wednesday, 20th April 2022, 8:00 am

Second-tier defences will be glad to see the Serbian hitman disappear back to the Premier League, Preston North End especially keen to bid good riddance to him.

Mitrovic’s two goals on Tuesday evening, together with a Fabio Carvalho strike, sunk the Lilywhites and sent Fulham back to the top flight after just a season away.

It was job done by the interval for the home side, Daniel Iversen three times having scooped the ball out of the back of his net at the Putney End of Craven Cottage in the first half.

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Preston North End defender Liam Lindsay gets above Fulham's Aleksandar Mitrovic at Craven Cottage

The first and third goals came from Mitrovic and it was odds on that his name was going to appear on the scoresheet.

Before this game he had scored seven times in the colours of Newcastle and Fulham against North End, eight and nine coming after a two-and-a-half year gap since the seventh.

PNE were the perfect guests at Fulham’s promotion party, far too nice to play against in the first half and only finding any sort of rhythm to their play when the game were beyond them.

The three goals while well taken, were scored that bit too easily by Mitrovic and Carvalho in the sense of the positions they found themselves in.

Preston North End midfielder Ben Whiteman challenges Fulham's Neco Williams The EFL Sky Bet Championship - Fulham v Preston North End - Monday 18th April 2022 - Craven Cottage - London World Copyright © 2022 CameraSport. All rights reserved. 43 Linden Ave. Countesthorpe. Leicester. England. LE8 5PG - Tel: +44 (0) 116 277 4147 - [email protected] - www.camerasport.com

Let’s be frank, their margin of victory could have been greater when you bear in mind Iversen deflected a Mitrovic shot on to the bar and denied both him and Carvalho with saves in quick succession in the second half.

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To bring some balance to that comment, it must be noted that North End hit the woodwork too through Cameron Archer and also stretched Cottagers goalkeeper Marek Rodak twice in the opening minutes.

Those were the few plus points on a night which was dominated by a Fulham side who were much too good for their visitors.

Preston North End striker Sean Maguire challenges in the air with Fulham skipper Tim Ream

It has to be said that they were something of a wounded animal going into the game having lost back-to-back matches in the league for the first time this season.

The chances of the Championship title-winners elect losing three on the bounce were slim to say the least and nothing that PNE did threatened a shock result.

South West London on a Tuesday night is a long way to travel but around 250 PNE supporters made the journey and by half-time probably wished they hadn’t bothered.

Every credit, they sang throughout the game and then had to watch at the final whistle as thousands of Fulham fans spilled on to the pitch to celebrate, paper clappers in hands.

Fulham fans celebrate promotion on the Craven Cottage pitch after victory over Preston North End

We’ve been here before, Brentford in 2014, Newcastle in 2017, the opposition celebrating promotion.

If anything, this game showed how much improvement in quality is needed to go from a middle of the road Championship side to one consistently winning at the top of the table.

Fulham are better than your average promotion-winning side at this level by reason of Mitrovic’s goals and their style of football coached by Silva who also happens to have the biggest budget in the division.

Whether they survive beyond 2022/23 in the Premier League as the gap continues to widen between first and second tier, remains to be seen.

For now though, they can enjoy the highs of being promoted with three games to spare and start planning how to go about being back at the top table of English football.

A glance at North End’s team-sheet an hour before kick-off suggested it could well be a difficult night ahead.

Patrick Bauer was missing from the defence, with Greg Cunningham given a breather on the bench.

Injury kept Alan Browne at home, while the physical presence of Ched Evans was preferred to Sean Maguire’s movement up front.

Evans was to last only 25 minutes before a knock on the foot forced him out of the action.

PNE’s back three had Liam Lindsay at the heart of it, the Scot to be fair to him having shackled Mitrovic well at Deepdale in November.

Josh Earl started at left wing-back for the first time since March 5 but was back in the dressing room by half-time as Ryan Lowe re-shaped the side and brought Bambo Diaby on.

I’ll hazard a guess that the origins of Earl’s substitution was a run he made which carried him into the Fulham box and into a great position to cross with his left foot – only for him to check inside on to his right, lose possession and trigger a hosts’ counter-attack.

By the time Fulham took a 10th minute lead, North End had already forced Rodak into two saves. Evans should have scored after being teed-up by Archer, then Ben Whiteman saw a deflected shot tipped over.

Mitrovic was slipped in by Joe Bryan for the opener, with him running past Lindsay to shoot through Iversen’s legs.

Fulham’s left side provided the second goal too in the 34th minute, this time Neeskens Kebano’s pass clipping Lindsay’s heal and falling to Carvalho – Liverpool bound this summer – to lift a first-time shot into the net.

Harry Wilson created the third, his pass finding Mitrovic just inside the box who fired past Iversen.

Lowe showed the PNE players the three goals back over the half-time tea and to be fair it worked to the extent that the second half was goalless.

You could argue that Fulham declared at three, although they very much stayed on the attack.

North End won’t play a better side than Fulham again this campaign, nor next season. There’s lots of work to be done though, if they are to mount a sustained challenge for the play-offs.