Mark Hughes might just rue not bringing in a striker during the summer transfer window. A timely double from Moussa Dembele delivered a first three points for the new manager but any joy Fulham might have taken from coming from a goal down against an agricultural Wolves side will have been severely tempered by the news that Bobby Zamora will miss the next four months with a broken leg. The England striker was a surprise selection the day after signing a new four-year deal at Craven Cottage after suffering an ankle injury at Blackpool a fortnight ago, but his chances of making further inroads into Fabio Capello’s post-World Cup side have been dealt a massive blow after Karl Henry’s challenge from behind saw him collapse in agony.
The Cottage faithful were far from impressed by both the physicality of Wolves’ performance and the ineptitude of referee Phil Dowd, who compounded his failure to award plenty of potential penalties by continually interrupting Fulham’s attacks. For a while, it looked as if Wolves might continue their fine start to the season with a win, after full back Jelle van Damme fired home unattended at the far post. Brede Hangeland might have been fouled by Kevin Doyle in the build-up to the goal, but John Pantsil still should have cleared the danger rather than allowing the former Reading striker’s cross to travel right across the six-yard box. Pantsil endured another awful afternoon and Fulham looked a lot more secure once Chris Baird replaced him at half-time.
Hughes’ side were largely wasteful in front of goal, although Davies felt he could have two spot-kicks before the visitors took the lead. Zamora spooned a free-kick high into the Putney End a feat later matched by his skipper Danny Murphy and John Pantsil sent a speculative effort from the edge of the box just over the crossbar. Fulham’s lack of a like-for-like replacement for the injured Zamora was illustrated by the propensity of Dembele, who started on the left of midfield, to drop into deeper midfield areas usually occupied by Clint Dempsey. The American had a quiet afternoon and Hughes had a quartet of creative midfielders on the field when Zoltan Gera was sent on as Zamora’s replacement.
Some sterns words from Hughes during the interval added greater urgency to Fulham’s play and the home side were level shortly after the break. Wolves failed to properly clear a Stephen Kelly cross and Dembele rifled home from 15 yards out, although he was aided by a deflection that took the ball out of reach of former Fulham goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann. Fulham were largely in the ascendancy after that, although Mark Schwarzer did brilliantly to palm away a Doyle header, and spurned several opportunities to take the lead.
Gera showed incredible agility to turn a Hangeland header goalwards although his close-range overhead kick cleared the crossbar and Dembele drove a low shot into Hahnemann’s arms. Just before the hour mark, Murphy’s beautifully floated pass looked to have unlocked the visitors’ defence. Simon Davies scampered onto it, with terrific poise much like he had to score the equaliser here against Hamburg last year, but Dowd waved away the penalty appeals after the Welshman appeared to have been caught by Hahnemann.
Hughes threw on Eddie Johnson for the final seven minutes in a desperate attempt to find a winner but it seemed as though the Whites were destined for a fourth league draw in a row. However, Johnson drew a foul from Christophe Berra in the first of four additional minutes, and – after the Scottish centre back had received his second yellow card – Davies and Gera cleverly teed up Dembele, who drilled his shot underneath the wall and into the bottom corner from 23 yards. Fulham seemed to have suddenly discovered a happy knack of finding late goals and this one was certainly well received.
The Hammersmith End had earlier labelled Wolves ‘a disgrace to the Premiership’ and, as a friend asserted after the final whistle, it finished ‘2-1 to football’. Given Fulham’s clear lack of striking alternatives, though, you have to wonder just how long Mark Hughes will be left ruing Zamora’s absence.
FULHAM (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer; Pantsil (Baird 45), Kelly, Hughes, Hangeland; Etuhu, Murphy, Davies, Dembele; Dempsey (E. Johnson 83); Zamora (Gera 30). Subs (not used): Etheridge, Halliche, Greening, Riise.
BOOKED: Pantsil, Murphy, Hangeland.
GOALS: Dembele (49, 90).
WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS (4-4-2): Hahnemann; Ward, van Damme (Fletcher 45), Craddock, Berra; Mancienne, Henry, Foley, Jarvis; Ebanks-Blake (Guediora 85); Doyle (Jones 61). Subs (not used): Hennessey, Elokobi, Stearman, M. Bent.
BOOKED: Mancienne, Ward, Jarvis, Berra, Henry, Jones.
SENT OFF: Berra (90).
GOAL: van Damme (10).
REFEREE: Phil Dowd (Stoke-on-Trent).