Fulham: Slavisa Jokanovic to stick with passing game in Premier League

Fulham manager Slavisa Jokanovic celebrates with the Championship play-off trophy
Slavisa Jokanovic is the first manager from outside the British Isles to win two promotions to the Premier League

Fulham boss Slavisa Jokanovic believes his side can keep playing their passing game in the Premier League next season, but is aware he will need to bolster his squad this summer.

The Whites sealed promotion by beating Aston Villa 1-0 in the Championship play-off final at Wembley on Saturday.

"We believe we can play this way," he said. "We must show ambition but we must know that next season we will probably not win as many games as at this level.

"In general, we must try to dominate the teams we believe we can dominate against."

Recruitment will be key for the Whites, who had five loanees in their matchday squad against Villa - while right-back Ryan Fredericks has yet to agree a new contract at Craven Cottage.

"Credit to my players, because many of them will be Premier League players next year," added Serb Jokanovic.

"We must be brave and strong to build something a little bit different. To show ambition, we're going to need to show the money too."

After masterminding Fulham's rise up the table and eventual promotion following his appointment in December 2015, Jokanovic will know Fulham will have to adapt back into life in the Premier League following a four-year absence from the England's top flight.

Players praise Jokanovic

Fulham have won admirers for their style of play over the past two seasons, and 49-year-old Jokanovic has become the first manager from outside the British Isles to win two promotions to the Premier League, adding to his success with Watford in 2014-15.

The Cottagers finished third in the table this season after their 23-match unbeaten run came to an end on the final day of the campaign - and Serbia striker Aleksandar Mitrovic paid tribute to his compatriot after their success under the arch in north London.

"He made a system that every player enjoys and feels comfortable playing in," the on-loan Newcastle man told BBC Sport.

"We have played unbelievable football this season and Slavisa and his staff did an unbelievable job."

Aleksandar Mitrovic tries to control the ball in the play-off final against Aston Villa
Mitrovic was an integral part of Fulham's bid for automatic promotion after joining in January

Fredericks, who says his future is "up to people behind the scenes", added: "We were saying before the game that we only knew how to play one way.

"If we bottled it and tried to play a different way we would have lost the game. To play our style on the highest occasion is credit to the manager.

"The way he sets us up gives us the freedom to play and the lads that are out there are brave on the ball."

Holding on to players

Promotion means Fulham are far more likely to keep hold of their crown jewels, captain Tom Cairney and winger Ryan Sessegnon, who may have been prised away from south west London if the Whites had missed out on promotion.

Both have attracted interest from Premier League sides but Scotland international Cairney, who scored the winner at Wembley, has decided to stay with the Cottagers, while 18-year-old Sessegnon has previously stated his desire to play for the Whites in the top flight.

Fulham will certainly be interested in a permanent move for Mitrovic, after the 23-year-old provided a focal point to their attack and contributed 12 goals in 20 appearances following his January switch.

Ryan Sessegnon and Tom Cairney celebrate Fulham's play-off final win
Teenager Sessegnon and Cairney were both nominated for the EFL's Championship Player of the Year award, which Sessegnon won

"I came to a team who played the football that is really good for me and my ability," he said.

"Credit to my team-mates, the staff and the club because they gave me a lot of support from the first minute I came here. They trusted me and I feel like I have been here a few years, not a few months."

Centre-back Tim Ream told BBC Radio London: "We know there will be changes as that happens every season.

"But this team wanted to at least give ourselves a chance to play together in the Premier League."

Odoi's relief as Whites hold on

Centre-back Denis Odoi was probably the most thankful man inside Wembley at the full-time whistle on Saturday, as his sending-off with 20 minutes remaining meant the Cottagers had to soak up pressure in the closing stages.

"It was so unfortunate but I am so relieved," the 30-year-old Belgian told BBC Radio London.

"I think anybody in my place would worry about a negative outcome. Getting sent off sucked."

Tomas Kalas, who has spent the past two seasons on loan at Fulham from Chelsea, was thrown on for the final 13 minutes as they sought to see the game out.

"It wasn't much about football, it was about the team spirit and the way we handled it towards the end was superb," said the Czech defender.

"All together the quality, team spirit and everything came at the right time and that is why we won."

Denis Odoi celebrates Fulham's promotion by climbing on the Wembley crossbar
Belgian defender Odoi got a great view of Fulham's post-match celebrations by climbing onto a crossbar at Wembley

Goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli was in the thick of the celebrations at the end of the game, picking up a smoke bomb and celebrating in front of the Fulham fans with it while his team-mates streaked across the pitch and enjoyed a pile-on by the goalline.

"We went into the second half and said it would be tough as Villa would throw the whole kitchen sink at us," said the 26-year-old.

"We had another mountain to climb when Denis got sent off but we have had loads of those this season.

"We stayed strong, resolute and determined and got there in the end.

"We had one aim this season and Slavisa has taken us back to the Premier League - where we belong."

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