ChampionshipFootball

Duncan Alexander: Can Mitro Go Full Champo in the PL?

February 26, 2022

THERE were 33 miners involved in the 2010 Copiapó mining accident which trapped them underground for 69 days. Happily all 33 were rescued in an operation that enthralled the world. Earlier this week, in west London, Aleksandar Mitrovic scored his 32nd and 33rd league goals of the season, breaking the Championship record for a single campaign, despite Fulham having 14 games remaining this season. The club are looking to escape the second tier at the first attempt after suffering relegation last season, and, like the Chilean miners, if they do so they will be treated to a trip to Old Trafford, although probably not a tour of the training ground.

Mitrovic’s personal goal total is less important than the wider task of getting his side back into the top-flight but given his rate of scoring rate remains so impressive, he must have a few targets in mind. As mentioned above, he has already beaten Ivan Toney’s “Championship record” but the second tier is much, much older than that. The highest number of goals scored in it in the Premier League era is the 42 rattled home by Portsmouth’s Guy Whittingham in 1992-93, that holiest of seasons.

The all-time record in the second tier, though, is George Camsell’s 59 for Middlesbrough back in 1926-27, a total helped significantly by the tweak to the offside law in 1925, reducing the required number of defensive players between an attacker and the goal when the ball was played to that forward from three to two. Whatever the reason for Camsell’s season of plenty, he must have thought that it was a record that would stand for decades to come, only to see it beaten by a single goal a year later.

Assuming Mitrovic stays fit and in form, and features in all of Fulham’s remaining league games, he should score an additional 16 league goals, which would leave him, and you may be ahead of me here, on 49. That would stop him becoming the first player since Peterborough United’s Terry Bly to score 50+ goals in an English league season (Bly did it in the fourth tier in 1960-61).

Even if Mitrovic adds no more goals for the rest of 2021-22 then he will still end the season with a handsome total. And with Fulham 11 points clear of third placed QPR, and that return to the Premier League looking likely, we need to ask the question: can Mitrovic handle the top flight this time around? It’s all very well plundering the second tier like a pirate but if Fulham are to stymie the up-and-down whirlpool they seem trapped in, they will need more than the three goals their Serbian forward provided in 2020-21.

But maybe the signs are ok. Some forget that he also scored 12 times in 17 games as Fulham were promoted in 2017-18 and then scored 11 in 2018-19, one more than Marcus Rashford and two more than Diogo Jota. So he can do it, but if he can do it like some of the all-time greatest performances by promoted players, then perhaps Fulham might have a chance of playing two consecutive Premier League seasons for the first time since the early 2010s.

The absolute master performance from a promoted player in terms of goalscoring in the following season remains Andy Cole in 1993-94, who not only scored 34 times but also added 13 assists, both out and out leading figures in the Premier League that season. The next two on the list have a 1990s connection too, with Kevin Phillips scoring 30 times for Sunderland in 1999-2000, and Stan Collymore with 22 for Nottingham Forest in 1994-95. In fact, the list of best performing promoted goalscorers is overwhelmingly English, with Andrew Johnson, Peter Beardsley, Marcus Stewart, Charlie Austin, Patrick Bamford and Rickie Lambert all included. It’s a mixed bag of veterans, lower league icons and up and coming prospects. Some, like Mitrovic himself, had given the Premier League a crack before. Fulham fans will hope that if they do get promoted, 2022-23 will be the season that Mitro finally brings his devastating second-tier form to the big time.