When writing these reactions, I usually find it helps to pen them as soon after the final whistle as possible, whilst everything is still fresh in the mind. Had I done that last night, this would have been a mixture of emotions and Moretti, so now I’ve had a few hours to reflect and a McBreakfast and I’m ready to try and summarise the euphoria in (questionably) plain English.
First off, a massive congratulations has to go to Scott and his backroom staff. It may have taken 367 days, several ups and downs, multiple criticisms of his style of play and questions of whether the job was just too big for him, but in the end, he completed the task that he was set by the Khans. And in the most glorious of fashions. While the football has at times been a tad draining to watch, it has ultimately proved effective. Perhaps the behind closed doors games have actually been a blessing for the team – it has allowed them to play the patient, possession-based passing game that may not be fully understood or appreciated by us in the stands without having the groans of Joe Bloggs planting seeds of doubt in their heads. The first two games after lockdown aside, they have gone out and done the job that needed to be done and you only need to look at the players to realise that Scott has earned their respect. He will undoubtedly grow and mature as a Head Coach, and there will be mistakes along the way, but he has passed the incredibly difficult first test with flying colours.
And yes, the players themselves, of course, deserve a big wad of kudos for their efforts, but special plaudits must be given to the man of the moment, Joe Bryan. As well as proving to be just a generally likeable bloke, he has written himself into Fulham folklore by a) scoring 2 goals in a playoff final to get us promoted against our fiercest rivals and b) making the Brentford keeper look incredibly silly on the biggest stage of all. Priceless! The left back has had to face various questions of his defensive abilities, and earlier in the season he spoke of the mental health issues he had faced over the years, so if there was anyone who was going to cover themselves in glory last night, I don’t think anyone could begrudge him his own personal victory on the night!
The match was always going to be a tense affair, but the Whites asserted themselves well and could have had a couple of goals early on but perhaps a few Wembley butterflies played their part. There was the heart-in-mouth moment at the other end too, but again, perhaps this was more down to the occasion than any particular threat from the so-called BMW, which appeared to have stalled at the most inopportune time for the stingless Bees. It’s hard to say much more about the actual performance…it was professional and stuck to the game plan we’ve come to expect; it lacked a clinical element for 105 minutes but the defence held strong at the other end, but I’m not going to critique it – that game every year is about one thing: the result. And we got it!
You could tell how much it meant to everyone involved. These last few months have been testing for everyone (everywhere!) and to come out at the end of it with a win at Wembley brings so many emotions with it, from outright joy to blessed relief. The Championship is generally a slog in a normal year, this was the ultimate endurance test, one which we almost feared Fulham would fail, but thankfully Scott and the boys had no interest in anything but success.
What next? Well the players will have a very short break and then it’s back to pre-season (again); the Premier League season is set to begin on September 12, so that only gives about 6 weeks to have a rest, get fit again, play some friendlies and then start welcoming the big boys (and Villa) back to the Cottage. Tony Khan and his team have a massive task ahead – they need to look at what they did last time we got promoted and do completely the opposite. With such a tight turnaround, it’s unlikely that we’ll see wholesale changes come the first game (thankfully!), but there are some positions that we need looking into and perhaps a couple of players will be waving goodbye on a high note. But we have the core of a good team with a Head Coach they respect and want to play for, so let’s hope there is a trust put in the players we have with additions only made where necessary and not just for the sake of a headline maker. Hopefully rumours that Harrison Reed has an £8m purchase clause in his loan deal are correct because that would be an absolute steal in this market. Although I’m sure Southampton may try and Matt Targett us if they can…
Of course, it will be weird having to watch the games just on TV for the foreseeable but we should all be excited about the future of the club. It won’t be easy as we found out in 2018/19, but fingers crossed those mistakes have been learnt from and we can re-establish ourselves as a Premier League team in a sensible fashion. Hopefully Tony realises that we don’t need to go out and try and win it first time around…it’s perfectly acceptable to try and create a solid team with a young (sometimes exciting) manager; we don’t want to hear about any ‘risk-free’ coaching changes should things start to go a little awry early on. Let’s get behind Scott and the boys from the get-go… we know how much of a challenge lays in wait, and whilst we can’t be there in person, for now, we can certainly know they have our full support!
Bring on 2020/21! COYW!!