The heavens opened at Craven Cottage tonight and it must have felt a world away from the sunshine of the Emirates on Sunday for poor old Tony Warner. His string of fine saves kept Fulham in contention for a win – and then a share of the spoils snatched from their grasp by a late Arsenal revival – on Sunday but in the teaming rain his glaring howler transformed a game that Lawrie Sanchez’s side were controlling into one where they had to battle to avoid defeat.
Battle they did, stirred into taking their chances by an extraordinary error at the heart of the Fulham defence. The danger looked to have passed when Warner collected Nicky Hunt’s long throw but, as he bowled the ball away to get a Fulham attack moving, it bounced off Zat Knight and into the path of Heidar Helguson. The former Fulham forward, shamefully booed by the younger elements of the Craven Cottage crowd, tucked away as straightforward a chance as David Healy converted at the weekend to score his first goal for Bolton.
Fortunately for Fulham, Healy was in predatory mood at the other end. The home side had dominated proceedings without carving Sammy Lee’s open too often. Pressed into more adventurous mode after Bolton’s goal, Fulham put the Bolton goal under a sustained assault. They buckled from a Simon Davies corner as Healy punished a poor clearance by firing home from six yards out.
Just three minutes later and the game had turned round completely. Another far from convincing clearance was hammered optimistically towards goal by Alexei Smertin, whose shot flew into the net via a massive deflection off the unfortunate Gerald Cid. It was just reward for Smertin’s splendid start to the season – the Russian was excellent at Arsenal – and had the energy and tenacity that Fulham needed against a Bolton side that mixed their usual uncompromising style with some more cultured passing.
Thankfully, the rain did subside somewhat after half-time to allow the game to be a little more of a spectacle. Bolton did their best to restore parity. Kevin Nolan missed a glorious headed chance at the far post after brilliant play from El-Hadj Diouf before Warner made one excellent excellent stop from Nicolas Anelka and Diouf drove just wide, but Fulham still carried plenty of purpose themselves. Substitute Diomansy Kamara, who was furious not to have been awarded a penalty shortly after replacing Healy, should have made sure of the points late on but the Senegalese forward spurned a glorious chance late on as he didn’t get a touch to a dangerous cross.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Warner; Baird, Konchesky, Knight, Bocanegra; Smertin, Davis, Davies, Bouazza (Dempsey 80); McBride, Healy (Kamara 79). Subs (not used): Batista, Volz, Diop.
BOOKED: Konchesky, Bocanegra.
GOALS: Healy (23), Smertin (26).
BOLTON WANDERERS (4-3-3): Jaaskelainen; Hunt, Samuel (Michalik 90), Cid, Meite; McCann (Mikel Alonso 76), Speed, Nolan; Anelka, Helguson (Braaten 72), Diouf. Subs (not used): Al-Habsi, Sinclair.
GOAL: Helguson (12).
REFEREE: Lee Probert (Gloucestershire).