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The Championship cheat code

The Championship cheat code

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Aleksander Mitrovic recently broke the Championship record for most goals scored in a season. What more does he need to do to prove himself as an elite striker?

Last season, Brentford’s Ivan Toney broke the record for most goals scored in a Championship season.

Toney scored 31 in total, the highest since the league was rebranded in 2004, eclipsing Glenn Murray’s total of 30 goals in 2013.

It’s not easy to score 30 goals in a season – the top scorer of the second tier has surpassed that number only seven times since 1966 – so you may have thought when this season started that Ivan Toney’s record would be safe for a few years yet.

Not if you’re Aleksander Mitrovic.

“It’s been one of the best individual performances I’ve ever seen anyone do at Craven Cottage. And I guess that’s quite an obvious point, but 38 goals is an incredible return.”

Sammy James

This is Sammy James, a Fulham fan and host of the Fulhamish podcast.

“I feel like he actually started the season a little bit slowly, but then by kind of September, October, he just started racing away with the goals and just scoring at just an incredible pace. And there were times where you were just thinking, ’oh, it’s been about 20 minutes since Mitrovic has scored.’”

Sammy James

Aleksander Mitrovic, Fulham’s prolific striker, hasn’t just broken Ivan Toney’s record – he’s obliterated it. 

He broke the record in February, with 12 games left to play in the season.

He’s gone on to score a handful more, and now has a remarkable 38 goals to his name, taking Fulham to the brink of promotion to the Premier League for the third time in five seasons.

There’s no wonder Aleksander Mitrovic is regularly described as a ‘cheat code’ for Championship success. 

But his reputation hasn’t always been one of respect for a great goalscorer. 

He’s been at Fulham since 2018, so has been accused of not being able to ‘cut it’ at Premier League level, whilst excelling in the Championship.

Looking at the raw numbers, you can see where this argument comes from – in the 2018/19 Premier League season, Mitrovic scored 11 goals in 37 games. 

Fulham were relegated that season. 

The following year, in the Championship, Mitrovic scored 26 times in 40 games, which earned him the division’s Golden Boot award. 

You might think, ‘Great, a chance for redemption in the Premier League!’ 

But Mitrovic struggled again in the Premier League, scoring just three times in 27 appearances. Two of those were in the same game – a 4-3 defeat to Leeds in the second game of the season, and the other was a penalty.

Then, this season, he found his goalscoring boots again in the Championship.

Those numbers on paper might make him look like a player who can’t cope in the Premier League. 

But look closer, and you’ll see those criticisms aren’t entirely fair. 

If you look at Mitrovic’s previous seasons in the Premier League, you’ll see that he struggled because Fulham struggled. 

It wasn’t so much a personal failure, but a team failure. 

In the season he scored only three goals, Fulham’s top scorer that season was Bobby Decordova-Reid, who only scored five himself.

And the 11 he scored in the 2018/19 season is not a bad return – after all, this season both Cristiano Ronaldo and Harry Kane have only scored 12 goals themselves – and Aleksander Mitrovic was in a team that was relegated. 

So with Fulham edging closer and closer to promotion back to the Premier League, will he finally get his dues?

“I’m not going to stand here and say that he’s definitely going to get 20 goals in the Premier League next year. I don’t know, but is he good enough for the level? Yes, he will compete.

“He will score goals. He’s more than capable of being a Premier League striker. I don’t think he’s got to prove himself to anyone. I think this year he has shown that in the right team that gives him the right service. He will. But it was in the back of the net. That’s his job. That’s what he’s good at.

“And if he can score tap-ins from three yards out in the Championship, he’ll score, tap-ins from three yards out in the Premier League, as long as he gets the service. But I just think that in his one full season where he was played every game, he scored 11 goals. That to me, proves that you can kind of do it in the Premier League.”

Sammy James

There is still one loose end that Aleksander Mitrovic could tie up before seeing if he can make the jump once again to English football’s top flight.

And that involves statistical records themselves.

In football’s ever-changing landscape, it’s important to note that he broke the Championship goalscoring record that has existed since 2004. 

Since the 1950’s, only one player has scored more than 40 goals in a second tier season – that being Guy Whittingham in 1993, who scored 42 times that season. 

If Aleksander Mitrovic managed to match, or even beat that, it would be the icing on the cake of an already remarkable season. 

Will it be enough to prove himself as a truly elite striker?

For some, he’d have to show he can ‘do it’ in the Premier League – but given his incredible feat this season, it should really be enough.

Today’s story was written by Andrew Butler, and mixed by Gemma Newby.