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Fulham Coach Slavisa Jokanovic expects to be going up

last updated Friday 11th May 2018, 12:10 PM

Fulham Football Club

Fulham Coach Slavisa Jokanovic
Fulham Coach
Slavisa Jokanovic
Slavisa Jokanovic
Fulham have been written off before this season and the way they proved their doubters wrong should be a lesson to anyone who is sceptical about their play-off chances.

Their automatic promotion dreams disappeared last Sunday and many have questioned if they can recover from that blow and still reach the Premier League. But Slavisa Jokanovic’s side have fought back in the face of adversity and shown they have the self-belief to bounce back and avoid more disappointment in the play-offs.

Many doubted Fulham stood any chance of promotion when they were 17th in the Championship last November following a 1-1 draw with Derby at Craven Cottage. And few gave them much hope a month later when they lost 1-0 to Sunderland at the Stadium of Light and were still languishing in the bottom half of the table.

But the belief within the team never wavered then and Jokanovic insists no doubts have crept in after their 3-1 defeat at Birmingham on the final day. Fulham face Derby at Pride Park tonight in the first leg of their play-off semi-final and Jokanovic said: “The Birmingham game is behind us. We did not perform well but our season was fantastic and many times we showed ambition, quality and self-belief.

“Nobody believed in us in the middle of December, nobody thought we would be fighting for the Premier League. But we showed we are strong and are a good team. We trust in ourselves. We did not lose our confidence after 90 bad minutes against Birmingham because for 3,000 or however minutes before that we showed we can be strong.

“Behind us is a big number of games where we played great football and showed great quality, character and organisation. We know we did not perform well against Birmingham but now we must be brave, stick together and be ready for the challenge.”

After that Sunderland defeat in December Fulham went on a 23-game unbeaten run before losing at St Andrew’s. The result meant Fulham missed out on automatic promotion by two points but they have a chance for redemption in the play-offs.

“Like in tennis, we lost one set point and now we must be ready for the next one,” added Jokanovic. “I expect in a few weeks we are going to be up.

“I do not have time to be disappointed or for crying. I do not have time to not trust my team or think about different players. Because these players gave us a great level of football.

“They showed great confidence, ambition and self-belief. After a bad step, I cannot complain about them. I am sure they are going to do it our normal way and fight to reach the final.”

If Fulham are get back into the top flight they must first overcome a Derby side who go into the play-offs resurgent under manager Gary Rowett and confident of an upset.

The Rams were second in the Championship in February before a dismal run left them out of top six.

But Rowett switched to a 3-4-2-1 formation that sparked a strong finish to the season in which they beat Cardiff, drew with Aston Villa and beat Barnsley in their final three games to secure the final play-off spot.

Rowett described his team as having been given “a second chance” after they fell out of the play-off places in April.

Jokanovic says Fulham feel the same missing out on the final day and the head coach will be under the spotlight in the play-offs. The 49-year-old Serbian has done a fine job in two-and-a-half years in charge at Craven Cottage but now he needs to get Fulham back into the Premier League.

“I want to be successful,” says Jokanovic, who guided Watford to promotion in 2015 but left Vicarage Road before the start of the next season. It is clear I am an ambitious man. I care about my team, my club, my supporters and myself. I want to be successful with my team.”

Jokanovic will need to overcome either Middlesbrough manager Tony Pulis or Aston Villa boss Steve Bruce at Wembley on May 26 but before then it is Rowett and Derby.

Fulham have never won a play-off match in six attempts but Derby also have a reputation as play-off bottlers, having failed to go up after reaching the Championship play-offs three times in the past five years. Both will be looking to silence their critics tonight and get a good result to take into the second leg at Craven Cottage on Monday.

Source GIUSEPPE MURO at Evening Standard
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