Sunday 28 July 2019 3:58 pm

Championship favourites Fulham 'cautiously optimistic' of bouncing back to Premier League

A year ago Fulham were about to embark on a keenly anticipated return to the Premier League with the full weight of billionaire owner Shahid Khan behind them. 

They had been promoted via the play-offs, but a 23-match unbeaten run, football that Pep Guardiola would have been proud of and an injection of cash for new additions meant an air of excitement accompanied the Cottagers’ return to the top flight.

Come May – and two managers later – they were destined for a crushing return to the Championship, such is the ease with which football can swing between ecstasy and heartache.

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Fulham are favourites with the bookmakers to return to the Premier League at the first time of asking, but fans remain wary of the pitfalls in the second tier, which resumes this week.

“There’s a sense of cautious optimism because we have managed to keep [Tom] Cairney and [Aleksandar] Mitrovic who could have been off to the Premier League. That was key,” Fulham Supporters’ Trust secretary Gerry Pimm tells City A.M.

“The caution is because we still haven’t strengthened at the back. We need at least one centre-back a right-back, and [following the departure of Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa] another defensive midfielder.”

While Cairney and Mitrovic agreed five-year deals, Fulham have also strengthened in wide positions, signing Anthony Knockaert and Ivan Cavaleiro on loans from Brighton and Wolves respectively, as they brace for the likely departure of Ryan Sessegnon.

Aboubakar Kamara (right) was caught in controversy on a number of occasions last season

Striker Aboubakar Kamara, meanwhile, has been reintegrated into the squad after being exiled to Turkey for the second half of last season following a training ground bust-up that saw him arrested. 

“He’s a raw talent, and by that I don’t mean he’s young, but I think half the time he doesn’t know what he’s going to do, let alone the opposition’s defence,” adds Pimm, who works at the Bank of England.

“The other reason for caution is that [manager Scott] Parker is a novice and there’s always a risk it won’t work out.”

The 38-year-old was handed a two-year contract at the end of the season after impressing as caretaker manager following the sacking of Claudio Ranieri, but his inexperience remains a concern.

Iconic Craven Cottage will have its Riverside Stand renovated this season

He has, at least, appeared to have had more sway than Slavisa Jokanovic was afforded in the transfer market last summer. 

“Last year it was all about stats and Tony [Khan, vice chairman] bought players and Slav didn’t have a say, but I think Parker will be having a bigger say this time.” 

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While there appears to be a grudging acceptance that Shahid Khan’s ownership means his son is here to stay, fans are contented by the redevelopment of Craven Cottage’s riverside stand, which would appear to secure the club’s continued presence on the banks of the Thames.

On the pitch there is more uncertainty, however. Rarely do teams bounce back to the Premier League at the first attempt, the last to do so being Newcastle in 2017.

“I don’t think we’ll go up,” says Pimm of Fulham, who begin the new campaign at Barnsley on Saturday. “I’m optimistic we’ll make the play-offs but the Championship is a nightmare to get out of.”