Such was the quality on show during Fulham’s eighth straight home league success that an unitiated observer might have picked Slavisa Jokanovic’s side as the runaway leaders of the Championship. Barring a brief spell before Ryan Sessegnon’s opener where they stroked the ball around Craven Cottage sublimely, Wolves were a pale imitation of the team that has swept away all-comers this season and looked bedraggled long before their first away defeat in four months was confirmed.
The imposing Aleksandar Mitrovic proved the difference between the buoyant hosts, who haven’t given up hope of claiming the second automatic promotion spot behind Wolves and Nuno Espirito Santo’s strangely subdued side. The Serbian striker personified Fulham’s fierce intensity when he turned Conor Coady inside out before firing a low shot between John Ruddy and his near post to double the hosts’ lead with twenty minutes to play. Mitrovic, eager to prove a point to Rafa Benitez and his national coach with a World Cup on the horizon, played a pivotal part in Fulham’s first as well. After Alfred N’Diaye carelessly squandered possession on the edge of his own box, the on-loan Newcastle forward fired a venomous shot that Ruddy did superbly to parry, before Sessegnon snaffled up the rebound.
Mitrovic – reunited with Jokanovic, his early Partizan Belgrade mentor – was in the mood from the off. He almost opened the scoring with a delicious dink over Ruddy, only for Coady to clear off the line. His desire, which didn’t chime with Benitez in the north east, seemed to rub off on his team-mates. Floyd Ayite and Ryan Fredericks found plenty of space down the right and the former fired wide as Fulham maintained a ferocious tempo long after the early exchanges.
Wolves took a while to hit their stride – but the visitors had their best spell of what was eventually an uneven contest in the ten minutes before they went behind. Leo Bonantini burst clear after Fulham had overcommitted in attack but Ivan Cavaleiro’s eagerness got the better of him and an offside flag rendered his rippling of the side netting academic. N’Diaye’s dipping 30-yarder briefly worried Marcus Bettinelli before clearing the crossbar whilst Helder Costa couldn’t find the finish to match a couple of dangerous dribbles.
The Championship’s pacesetters appeared early for the second half, presumably with a Portuguese tongue-lashing lingering in their eyes. They penned Fulham back early on but only extended Bettinelli once when the Fulham goalkeeper clawed away a shot from Cavaleiro and Costa spooned the rebound over the crossbar. Nuno threw on Diego Jota and Morgan Gibbs-White to try and enliven his charges but Wolves sorely missed the suspended Reuben Neuves in midfield and struggled to disrupt the fluency of Fulham’s football. Former Molineux man Kevin McDonald broke up visiting attacks with real relish and, in front of him, Tom Cairney and Stefan Johansen directed the contest almost effortlessly. Wolves toiled manfully but had only a wild strike from distance by Romain Saiss to show for their probing outside the Fulham box.
Once Mitrovic had shrugged off the attentions of an off-colour Coady to grab his second goal in three days, there only looked like one winner. The Whites nearly found a third just a minute later when a clever Cairney pass found Stefan Johansen, whose curler crept agnosingly wide of the top corner. Sessegnon, substitute Sheyi Ojo and Targett all fashioned chances to further extend the lead, but Wolves’ forgettable evening in the capital was summed up with five minutes to play. Coady sent Benik Afobe clear with a raking ball through the Fulham defence and the Wolves substitute presented Jota with an open goal after his shot was blocked by the brilliant Tim Ream, but the Atletico Madrid youngster somehow contrived to lift his finish over the bar from eight yards out.
It would be tempting to take great heart from Fulham’s consecutive home humblings of promotion rivals in the form of Aston Villa and the champions’ elect. Jokanovic, eager to keep his players’ feet on the ground, was already considering the threat Derby County will pose next weekend in his post-match press conference. What might matter more than the three points is the message this particular win sends – alongside the fact that Fulham kept a fourth successive clean sheet in the league at the Cottage for the first time since April 1999. There’s a long way to go but the Whites are motoring nicely ahead of an enthralling Championship run-in.
FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; Fredericks, Targett, Kalas, Ream; McDonald, Johansen, Cairney (Odoi 9o); Ayite (Ojo 64), R. Sessegnon, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Button, Christie, Norwood, Fonte, Kamara.
GOALS: Sessegnon (38), Mitrovic (71).
WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS (3-4-3): Ruddy; Bennett, Coady, Boly; Doherty, Douglas, Saiss (Afobe 76), N’Diaye (Gibbs-White 63); Costa (Jota 63), Cavaleiro, Bonatini. Subs (not used): Norris, Baath, Hause, Miranda.
BOOKED: Douglas, Boly.
REFEREE: Peter Bankes (Merseyside).