Congratulations Fulham, you’ve managed to get out of one of the toughest and most competitive leagues in the world, via the toughest and most competitive route.
Joe Bryan was the hero at Wembley as Scott Parker oversaw the Cottagers’ immediate bounce back to the Premier League at the expense of Brentford’s fairytale ended to their magical final season at Griffin Park.
After the champagne has gone flat and the beers have turned warm Parker will be gathering his squad for pre-season training and unequivocally telling them that this is where the hard work really begins.
But, truthfully, that is not completely accurate.
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The Championship is a relentless, physically and emotionally draining league which is just as likely to chew you up and spit you out into League One as it is to elevate you to the Premier League with £160m in your owner’s back pocket.
It’s all about momentum.
You’d expect the team finishing in third place to be favourites, given they are, statistically, the best team in the play-offs, yet in the last 13 years only seven winners finished in third place – Fulham doing it twice in the last three years.
Yet nearly four of the winners have finished fifth, a position normally held by a team finishing the season with a few wins under their belt. Just ask Nottingham Forest how important momentum can be when it comes to the last game of the season.
“It’s a different kind of pressure,” Robert Snodgrass, who lost in the play-off final with Aston Villa, told The Independent. “The Premier League is the biggest stage. Every game, every minute is the most important. There’s so much on every match.
“With the Championship, there is still pressure, but the games come in waves. You barely get time to catch your breath. When you go on a winning run, you can feel on top of the world. But suddenly one defeat becomes two, becomes three in the space of a week. And with so many big teams around, you can drop down the table quickly.
“Morale can go in an instant. You rise and fall together so I’ve always thought it doesn’t matter if you’re a good player – if you’re not a team player, you’re not worth the hassle in that division.”
But Fulham seem to have the formula to get out of the Championship and have become one of the Premier League’s unofficial yoyo clubs, along with West Brom, who were also promoted back to the big time this season.
What the west Londoners don’t have, however, is the formula of how to stay there. Yet.
Parker heads back to the Premier League with bags more experience that the last time he was there, when he was promoted to caretaker manager following the club’s sacking of Claudio Ranieri, who was already Fulham’s second permanent boss that season.
Backed by the wealthy owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars Shahid Khan, Fulham spent big in an attempt to survive that season, with only Chelsea and Liverpool spending more on transfers and only the Reds having a greater net spend.
It’s a risky tactic, replacing a successful team with one full on big-money signings, and it rarely works. Aston Villa did the same thing this season and only survived by the skin of their teeth and the glitch of goal-line technology.
Fulham will still spend – they have to, Norwich’s season proved that relying on your Championship heroes alone isn’t enough – but they must get the balance right and target players who can fit Parker’s style of play, rather than ones that will force him to change it.
“You can’t build teams with drastic changes, drastic swings of players [coming in],” Parker said after the final whistle. “This team has been around myself now for the best part of 15 months and they have improved and improved and improved. I’m happy with where we are. We are going to need additions – we are going into the biggest league there is – but no real drastic changes.
“Some clear errors were made last time and we will learn from that, we need to learn from that. We are going into the best league in the world, the best players, it’s a brutal league and I realise the challenge ahead.
“I want to try and enjoy what we have done so far but we need to learn from those mistakes. What we’re trying to build and ingrain in the players and this football club is some core foundations. If you’re not building your club on concrete but sand, it will be that rollercoaster ride.”
It’s only 38 days until the start of the Premier League season and while the hardest work may be done, it’s still not going to get any easier from here.