After guiding his side to play-off success, Slavisa Jokanovic has said that Fulham deserve their return to the Premier League following a four-year spell in the Sky Bet Championship.
Tom Cairney’s first-half goal proved the difference between the two sides, although a red card shown to Denis Odoi 20 minutes from time made for an uncomfortable finish to the game.
Aston Villa came out fighting in the second half and went close on a number of occasions, but Jokanovic’s men were able to hold out and join Wolverhampton Wanderers and Cardiff City in going up.
“It’s not easy to come to Wembley and try to follow the style we have played for the past three years,” the Serbian manager explained.
“We played with our style and beat one of the best teams in the Championship, showing we can be solid and organised to fight for a clean sheet too.
“It’s a really important victory for us and, after last year, we deserve this. We fought relegation [in Fulham’s first year in the Championship], then we were unlucky to miss out on this opportunity last year.
“Fulham is my club with my staff, and this is our project. The Premier League is the most competitive league in the world and you must be clever, and we will show ambition to stay in that division.”
The impact that astute business during the January transfer window had on Fulham’s season cannot be understated, with three men in particular playing crucial roles in their charge to promotion.
The eleventh-hour arrivals of Aleksandar Mitrovic and Cyrus Christie, as well as Matt Targett who joined a week earlier, enabled Jokanovic to fully implement his gameplan centred around attractive, possession-based football.
But another key cog has been there since the Serb joined the Cottagers. Captain Cairney played a leading role in Saturday’s final, as he has done for some time in the heart of Fulham’s midfield.
“We had to wait until January to bring some really important players in and they’ve all made a big impact in the second half of the season,” he said.
“[Mitrovic] has made an important impact, but so has Targett – he’s given us the opportunity to play Ryan Sessegnon further forward and he went on to be our top goalscorer.
“Tom [Cairney] has been fantastic – he will remember what happened last season and he was crucial, showing the quality and personality to be a midfielder in the Premier League.
“We’ve not started preparing for the new season of course – we’re not thinking about football for a few days – but we know we must try and dominate against some teams. We believe we can play this way in the Premier League.