Michael Hector called on experienced heads to keep camp calm after his side navigated to their second Play-Off Final in three years.
Hector and Fulham were forced to dig deep to set-up a derby day Final against Brentford after a deluge of pressure from Cardiff City at Craven Cottage.
There was a sense of relief and focus in the defender’s voice when speaking to the press.
“It was a tough game; we were buzzing to get through which was the main thing,” he said. “However, as a team we weren’t happy that we lost the game, but the main objective was to get through and that’s what we did. The lads in the changing room were buzzing to get through to Wembley.
“It was always going to be nervy when they just needed the one goal. They’ve got a lot of big players and kept throwing it into the box and we did well. Marek made a few key saves, but we dealt with it well.”
Hector was quick to emphasise that attentions will be turned to Tuesday’s end game at Wembley, with no time to dawdle on celebrations.
“We can’t celebrate yet. We celebrate as a team in the changing room,” he continued. “The job in hand is the one at Wembley on Tuesday. We got the job done on Thursday, but our focus is on that.
“As soon as you cross the white line you know what’s at stake. We have to get ourselves motivated for this game, if you can’t motivate yourself for this type of game, we have a serious problem.
“We’ve set ourselves up well to get us straight back up into the Premier League. This is what it means to try and get Fulham back to the Premier League.”
There was some time for sentiment, with the 28-year-old receiving messages of support from loved ones as he strives to complete his dream of becoming a Premier League player.
“We had a lot of messages from friends and family. We need to focus on Tuesday, it’s just recovery and treatments so we’re ready to go. A few of the players have been here before and they’re passing that experience onto the younger players or ones that haven’t played here before. It’s a big pitch so we’re buzzing to get going.
“We feel we have momentum; Thursday was a blip, but we are toughening up. We have a good squad of players and we’ll be ready.”
The tough nature is a quality Scott Parker has been focusing on developing in his squad. A real grit and desire to see out games. Hector was quick to commend the work Parker has done to steady the ship.
“He’s just emphasising on focus and hard work,” he commented. “We know Brentford’s strengths and weaknesses so it’s all about putting that into practise now.
“Scott’s done a great job; the Championship is a tough league playing Saturday-Tuesday throughout the season and this is his first big job in football. You see teams like Hull City and Huddersfield in relegation fights, so he’s done an unbelievable job to get us into the Play-Offs. The mission is still to get promoted and he doesn’t get the credit he deserves.”
Parker has instilled a defensive solidity, with 18 clean sheets recorded this season. 11 of those have featured Hector since January, earning him comparisons to Virgil van Dijk, AKA ‘Virgil van Mike’.
“It’s probably just a bit of banter with the fans!” he joked. “They were happy with my performances when I came in. Obviously, Virgil is a big centre-back in the world so to be tarnished like that is a positive remark, but I try to play my own game.”
Those performances have come down to a homeliness that the Jamaican defender has found at Fulham following his numerous loan spells. He expressed his gratitude to the staff and Tony Khan.
“Tony Khan has been fantastic. The Gaffer as well, wanting to get the deal done for me to be here. I trained with the lads beforehand which helped me and I’m grateful for the opportunity I’ve been given. I was still going into team meetings and watching the games back, so I felt part of the squad throughout.
“I always thought I could help them. The players we have here are frightening at times. I had to work hard to get into the XI and keep my place in the team.
“I feel like I’ve found my home at Fulham. It’s in London which is where my family is. I feel at home and I’m a bit wiser. The staff here have supported me very well.”