Ranieri savours Fulham’s ‘little step’

Claudio Ranieri made a winning start as Fulham boss.[Picture: Simon Matthews/PA Wire]

Claudio Ranieri praised the character of his Fulham players after marking his Premier League return with a 3-2 victory over Southampton.

The Italian was thrilled as the Whites moved off the bottom of the Premier League table with a first win since August, but warned further improvement is required.

“Look, for us it’s an important match,” the former Chelsea boss said.

“Everybody is very, very pleased, but it’s a little step. It’s not an easy job for everybody, but I believe.

“I believed until the end. I asked the players to fight until the end.

“We played a good match, but we conceded too many chances to the opponents.

“We have to improve a lot. We have to work hard to improve tactically.”

Stuart Armstrong netted a brace – his first Saints goals – either side of strikes from Aleksandar Mitrovic and Andre Schurrle for Fulham.

Mitrovic, who rivalled Armstrong as the game’s star performer, restored the hosts’ lead with a crisp volley after 63 minutes and Fulham held on to win.

Mitrovic was Fulham’s hero again. [Picture: Steven Paston/PA Wire]

Mitrovic took his season’s tally to seven goals after scoring for the first time since September.

Ranieri said: “That is the life of strikers. Maybe strikers score a lot of goals in a row, or maybe for one or two months they don’t score.

“For me, Mitrovic is one of the best strikers in Europe. And when I say in Europe, say the whole world.

“He’s only 24 years old. He’s a fantastic player. It’s important to give the ball to him. It’s important to give him a lot of chances to score.”

Southampton have not won since September 1 against Crystal Palace and former Fulham and QPR boss Mark Hughes, who had an 11-month stint at Craven Cottage in 2010-11, has just three wins in 21 league games since his appointment in March.

Visiting supporters booed the late substitution of Armstrong, not appreciating the Scotland midfielder had cramp.

Hughes, who felt Saints deserved to win, said: “It’s all quite predictable. I don’t think anybody’s surprised by it.

“Everybody’s frustrated. Our fans have been witness to similar games in the past, where we’ve done OK and that frustration of not getting the result over the line is really hurting us at the moment.”

Hughes acknowledged there will be speculation about his future as boss.

“There’s always questions, there’s always noise,” he added.

“There’s always an opportunity for people to question your position or your work.

“You have to accept that. If results aren’t what you want them to be, people get frustrated.

“At times it’s a little bit unfair, because sometimes people smell blood and go after it and chase it and paint the situation in a different light than it actually is.

“It doesn’t faze me. I’ve gone through these periods before. You just get on with it and get on with your job to the best of your ability.”