Watching last season’s dismal play-off final between Reading and Huddersfield, those connected with Fulham could be forgiven for feeling particularly frustrated at the drab bore draw.
After all, Slavisa Jokanovic’s side had only been denied a place at Wembley by a single penalty in their semi-final against Reading a fortnight earlier and had routed both sides earlier in the campaign with performances that perfectly demonstrated why they were one of the Championship’s most attractive sides to watch.
For striker Sone Aluko, however, seeing Huddersfield secure a first ever season in the Premier League with a penalty shoot-out triumph was the moment he was able to turn the page on play-off heartbreak.
“Huddersfield beat Reading, they were up and that was closure,” Aluko told City A.M.
“After that, you go on holiday, you move on and start looking forward to next season. It was pretty quick.
“Of course, there was a sense of disappointment but that’s football. Every time you play, you’ve got to earn the right to win, you can’t base it off what we did before — winning 5-0 [vs Reading], 5-0 and 4-1 [vs Huddersfield] — you have to go out there and keep doing it every time.
“They earned the right to be there.”
Earning your dues through consistency — it’s a theme Aluko repeatedly alludes to in anticipation of the new season.
Under Jokanovic’s direction, Fulham put together more passes, created more chances and took more shots than any other side in the Championship last season while only eventual champions Newcastle scored more goals.
It was an impressive achievement for a side few expected to be in the promotion discussion ahead of the campaign, after finishing 20th and 17th in the preceding seasons and a summer in which high-profile forwards Ross McCormack and Moussa Dembele both left the club.
Yet despite an attractive brand of football helping to drive crowds at Craven Cottage to the highest they’ve been since Fulham were relegated from the Premier League, the Cottagers suffered from outbreaks of poor form that derailed their progress.
“We want to build on last season,” says Aluko. “We’re not satisfied with what we did last year.
“We’re proud of what we did — at the start of last season we weren’t tipped to be anywhere near the play-offs — but we want more.
“Every time you go out and play you have to earn the right. Whether we were tipped last season or not, whether we’re tipped this year, it doesn’t mean teams are going to come and go ‘Fulham are a top team’.
“It’s like Newcastle last year, they had to go out and win the league. No one gave it to them and we’re no different. We know it’s going to be tough this year but we fancy the challenge.”
After the upheaval of last summer, Fulham have largely kept last season’s main players together with the exception of left-back Scott Malone, who has joined Huddersfield, and Scott Parker who has retired.
Aluko himself has attracted multiple bids from an unnamed club, although the Cottagers have rejected the advances — Jokanovic said such a sale would be a “big mistake” — and are considering offering the 28-year-old a new contract having already tied the influential Tom Cairney and teenage star Ryan Sessegnon to new deals this summer.
“The more you play, the more you get to know each other,” said Aluko.
“We want to strengthen, but the team we have now we’re satisfied with. We’re confident. Very confident.
“This season we’re thinking one step further and that’s getting promoted.”