Match-winner Matt Smith says Fulham’s reserves of self-belief were vital in carrying them to an impressive victory over Newcastle United on Friday night.
Slavisa Jokanovic’s side surprised many by putting the Championship promotion favourites to the sword thanks to Smith’s towering header just before half-time. The tall forward, chosen to lead the line after the summer exits of Ross McCormack and Moussa Dembele, put Fulham’s assured display down the confidence developed during a successful pre-season.
Smith told the club’s official website:
The lads were buzzing afterwards. We had a really productive pre-season, we felt we were in a good place coming into the game. It was ultimately the test for everything we’d worked on, and I think the lads passed with flying colours. We were set up really well and stuck to our game plan, and had that self-belief which got us over the line.
I don’t think anyone backed us prior to the game except ourselves really. Newcastle are the favourites for the title and maybe we caught them at a good time in the sense that they haven’t had an opportunity to suss out the division and get into their stride yet.
They’re a very good team, make no bones about it, but we have that self-belief, and the confidence in the camp was high after pre-season because of the quality in the squad. So we felt very good going into the game and we stuck to the gameplan that was laid out, and it was just great to hear the final whistle go and be on the end of a 1-0 win.
The former Leeds striker was delighted to make his mark in front of goal, too, having hoped to get more of an opportunity in the first team this year after a stop-start couple of seasons at Craven Cottage.
I got a couple of yards of space which was surprising. TC [Tom Cairney] put a great ball in, the pace was on the ball so I just had to direct it, and it was an unbelievable feeling to see it go in, and for it to be the winning goal as well is a special feeling.
Last season was, by a long shot, the worst of my career, so to get a really good pre-season under my belt and to be in a good place, I think all those emotions just rolled into one when I saw the ball hit the net. It was a great feeling but I scored on the opening day last season so I don’t want to get too carried away!