The numbers are staggering. Aleksandar Mitrovic, a man who seemed surplus to requirements at Craven Cottage last season, has scored eighteen goals in fifteen games – and nobody in English football has found the net more often this term.

Scott Parker’s decision to exclude Mitrovic from a side scrapping for their lives at the foot of the Premier League last season was mystifying. The Serbian striker seemed certain to leave in the summer had Parker remained at the helm, but the arrival of Marco Silva changed everything. The Portuguese head coach, with his own ambitions of repairing his reptuation in this country, quickly made clear that Fulham’s number nine was crucial to his plans – and set up designing his team to make the most of Mitrovic’s considerable strengths.

Mitrovic’s second hat-trick of the season won a critical three points yesterday against another of the Championship’s promotion contenders. He showed a commendable coolness from twelve yards – something that hasn’t always been the case – to capitalise on a generous penalty award and moved sharply to seize upon a wretched mistake from Robert Snodgrass. But my favourite moment of the afternoon came in the immediate aftermath of Mitrovic’s third, beautifully created by a clever cut back from Harry Wilson, when he roared in celebration together with the Hammersmith End.

Seeing Mitrovic playing football with a smile on his face again is something special. None of us have enjoyed the past year but the Serbian struggled with lockdown, coronavirus and his own relationship with a manager who failed to believe in him. It seems staggering that Ivan Cavaleiro was considered a more credible goalscoring option when the Whites were desperate for firepower up top – and Silva’s clever deployment of Fulham’s biggest asset has got his side fully firing.

Mitrovic’s value within the eighteen yard box has never been in question. He will test the concentration, physicality, judgement and desire of every centre back he comes up against. But Silva also uses him as the focal point of Fulham’s attack by recognising that Smederevo-born striker is more than just a mere target man. He has immense value in linking the play and not just with his chest or head: Mitrovic is capable of deft touches with his feet and has an eye for a pass as well.

Saturday’s treble took him on to 71 Fulham goals and fifteenth place in the club’s all-time scoring charts. He is a single strike behind Dean Coney – and, having only turned 27 last month, should be a decent bet to bring a century in the black and white if not challenge the likes of Bedford Jezzard, Johnny Haynes and Gordon Davies at the very top of the list. His scoring record at this level is insane and this season he has scored more goals individually than ten clubs in the Championship. He is on track to easily eclipse Ivan Toney’s mark from last term – and might even fancy overhauling Guy Whittingham, who scored 42 goals for Portsmouth in the 1992/93 season.

The cliched response to Mitrovic’s magnificent exploits is to suggest that he’s something of a flat track bully: supreme in the Championship, but unable to do it in the top tier. I’d question such an assumption, however. He never had a regular run of games as a youngster at Newcastle, where he was never likely to fit in with Rafa Benitez’s way of playing. Mitrovic did remarkably well to score eleven goals in Fulham’s dysfunctional 2018/2019 campaign, where the Whites finished ten points adrift of safety. Five of those came in Slavisa Jokanovic’s thirteen games with five more in Claudio Ranieri’s fourteen match reign – when Fulham’s style shifted significantly – and just one (a penalty) in ten under Parker, which should have given us all a serious sense of foreboding.

When you factor in his sensational international record – 43 goals in 68 appearances at a better strike rate than a certain Cristiano Ronaldo – it seems fair to suggest that he shouldn’t be written off as a top tier performer. You’d fancy him to score regularly should Silva’s side be promoted this season – if only because the new boss sets a high premium on giving his centre forward the sort of service upon which he thrives.

The bottom line is that these are halcyon days down by the banks of the Thames. We marvelled at the pace and predatory instincts of Louis Saha, briefly savoured how easily Dimitar Berbatov made it look, enjoyed that magical European run with Bobby Zamora up top and admired Brian McBride’s bravery. The goal getters of yesteryear put together numbers that might not be beaten. But you’ll never find another striker as clinical as Mitrovic. We’re lucky that he and Fulham feel like a match made in heaven – and hopefully there are several chapters of his story still to be written.