Anybody who arrived at Craven Cottage in glorious summer sunshine expecting to be entertained by a glorious afternoon of attacking football was surely destined to be disappointed. This was never going to be a classic: Roy Hodgson had admitted Fulham’s focus was on Thursday’s Europa League semi-final with Hamburg and Mick McCarthy’s well-organised Wolves side were always likely to be conservative given how close they stand to Premier League safety.
This had the feel of a sleepy county cricket stalemate rather than the glitz and glamour of a Premier League encounter. The tempo was noticeably slower than normal and goalmouth excitement was at a real preminium during a dreary first half. Fulham were frustrated by dogged Wolves defending early on as Damien Duff saw a shot blocked and Marcus Hahnemann, who barely got a sniff first-team action in his brief spell with Fulham, did well to saunter off his line to prevent Zoltan Gera providing from Danny Murphy’s intelligent through ball.
Wolves weren’t content to sit back, though, and had the clearer openings as the first half drew a close. Kevin Doyle might have been surprised at how a scuffed David Jones shot arrived at his feet and he could only find the side netting from acute angle. The Irish international’s tame header a few moments later came as both Chris Smalling and Aaron Hughes failed to shut down the lone Wolves front man.
Hughes was at his best in the second half, though, sliding in brilliantly to clear just as Matt Jarvis looked likely to pull the trigger, but the near miss seemed to spark Fulham into life. As so often this season, Bobby Zamora was the catalyst. Damien Duff had already dallied around inexplicably in front of goal but Zamora’s lovely 25-yard curler clipped the outside of the post with Hahnemann a mere spectator.
Smalling should have punished an error from the American keeper when he completely missed a Simon Davies but the Manchester United-bound young centre back looped a header onto the roof of the net from close range. For all of Fulham’s patient passing, Wolves – much improved by McCarthy throughout the course of the season (a third clean sheet in four is amble evidence of their progress)- coped well with this examination of their defensive mettle. The quiet Gera wriggled free down the right angle of the box but a dangerous cross eluded Zamora and Duff danced away from Elokobi but once again couldn’t find a decisive touch to convert his centre.
Fulham’s frustrating afternoon was summed up by a wretched late free-kick from Zamora that flew harmlessly wide. The England hopeful’s angry reaction said it all: you can rest assured that Fulham will need to improve on this showing if their dreams of making a European final are still to be alive when Hamburg come to the Cottage on April 29.
FULHAM (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer; Baird, Konchesky, Hughes, Smalling; Etuhu, Murphy, Duff, Davies; Gera; Zamora. Subs (not used): Zuberbuhler, Pantsil, Dikgacoi, Greening, Riise, Okaka, Nevland.
WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS (4-5-1): Hahnemann; Zubar, Elokobi, Craddock, Berra; Mancienne, Foley, Edwards (Guediora 70), Jones (Milijas 72), Jarvis (Iwelumo 79); Doyle. Subs (not used): Hennessey, Ward, Halford, Ebanks-Blake, Iwelumo.