Abject is probably the kindest way to describe this disappointing Fulham performance. Roy Hodgson hailed his second-string side for their efforts in Sofia this week but he’ll be scratching his head wondering just why his senior players couldn’t produce the goods at Wolves this afternoon. On the back foot from the very first whistle, there was none of the fluid football that had characterised Fulham’s rise to seventh place last season and even less of the defensive solidity on which that record-breaking league finish was built.
But credit must go to Wolves for carrying out Mick McCarthy’s gameplan to the letter. They unsettled Fulham from the off – determined to lay down a marker in a bid to claim their first league win since they returned to the top flight. The gold shirts swamped Fulham’s midfield and cut off Danny Murphy, who cut an increasingly irritated figure as a painful first half wore on. The home side made it extremely difficult for Hodgson’s side to get out of their half and thereby increased the pressure on a defence that looked far from secure.
There was irony in the fact that it was Kevin Doyle, reportedly on Hodgson’s list of striking targets in the summer, who sneaked away from Aaron Hughes to get the decisive touch to a Greg Halford long-throw. Christophe Berra, another man who Hodgson apparently ran the rule over when the Scotland international was at Hearts, had climbed highest to get a crucial flick on. You couldn’t say the goal had come against the run of the play – indeed, it was entirely merited and Wolves were probably disappointed to just be a goal up at the break.
Doyle had already had two sighters at goal and Segundo Castillo typified Wolves’ adventure by sending a long-distance effort wide. Andy Keogh had a goal chalked off for offside before the half-time whistle blew and the travelling support were left hoping for a turnaround similar to that engineered by a Hodgson half-time team-talk against Everton last weekend.
Any chance that Fulham had of mounting a comeback semeed to disappear just minutes into the second period. The entirely out-of-sorts Clint Dempsey surrendered possession to David Edwards, who collected a return ball from Keogh to give Wolves a two-goal lead. Hughes nearly compounded the misery when he headed towards his own goal and only Schwarzer’s quick reactions kept the deficit down.
Wolves began to feel the effects of their high-tempo pressing game, but Wayne Hennessey kept out Dickson Etuhu’s drive, which you sense was powered by an afternoon of frustration. Fulham were struggling to create clear-cut chances but got a helping hand from Michael Mancienne. The on-loan Chelsea defender inexplicably hauled down Bobby Zamora, who probably had little hope of reaching Andy Johnson’s cross, and Murphy tucked away the penalty.
Diomansy Kamara was sent on as Fulham went in search of an equaliser and almost had an immediate impact as he breached the Wolves offside trap but, for all Fulham’s belated endeavour, their afternoon was perfectly encapsulated by Zamora’s inadvertant blocking of Duff’s late shot. Much to ponder for Hodgson with Manchester City – in the League Cup on Wednesday – and Arsenal to come.
WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS (4-4-2): Hennessey; Halford, Elokobi, Berra, Mancienne; Henry, Castillo, Edwards (Maierhofer 70), Jarvis (Kightly 86); Keogh, Doyle (Ebanks-Blake 77). Subs (not used): Hahnemann, Zubar, Hill, Milijas.
GOALS: Doyle (18), Edwards (50).
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Konchesky (Greening 71), Hughes, Hangeland; Etuhu (Kamara 77), Murphy, Duff, Dempsey (Davies 61); Zamora, A. Johnson. Subs (not used): Zuberbuhler, Baird, Smalling, Gera.
GOAL: Murphy (pen 65).
REFEREE: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire).