Back to the drawing board for Martin Jol then. If the new Fulham manager didn’t fully appreciate the enormity of the task he faces in trying to cure their wretched away record, he does now. A frail Fulham side succumbed meekly to a combination of commitment and verve that saw Wolves rise, if only temporarily, to the Premier League’s summit on a sunny Midlands afternoon.
Unlike his opposite number, Mick McCarthy had every reason to smile. His Wolves side have fully rewarded his decision to respond to last season’s nailbiting battle against relegation with a more adventurous approach with two terrific displays bringing their best start to a league campaign since Robbie Keane was leading the line in 1998. For all the bluster about their physicality and combative style, there was some feeling finesse to Wolves’ display this afternoon. Matt Jarvis ran poor old Aaron Hughes all afternoon reviving memories of last season’s sparking showings that earned him an England call-up.
Wolves had lacked a killer instinct last season despite dominating large spells of goals. Already this term, McCarthy’s side are showing signs of scoring when they are top. Last weekend, they came from a goal down to kill off Blackburn and two goals in four minutes at the end of the first half knocked the stuffing out of Fulham here. The visitors failed to close down Kevin Doyle from Stephen Hunt’s short corner and, as Pajtim Kasami and John Arne Riise went for the same ball, the Irish striker swivelled and lifted his shot into the top corner from six yards out. Fulham barely drew breath and the home side had doubled their lead. Mark Schwarzer made a fateful decision to come for a Hunt cross and was beaten to it by Roger Johnson, whose header came back off the post. Any relief was fleeting as Jarvis turned the rebound into an unguarded net.
Doyle might have put Wolves ahead earlier in the contest when he chased a lost cause and dispossessed the off-colour Brede Hangeland on the by-line and skipped round Schwarzer only to shoot over the bar. Schwarzer also had to save well from Jamie O’Hara, whose thirty-yarder looked like creeping into the bottom corner. Fulham faded badly after a bright start, with Kasami hitting the outside of the post inside the first minute and Damien Duff spurning two very good chances, and badly missed Bobby Zamora, who watched on from the stands having been left out on account of an ankle injury.
Jol brought on Steve Sidwell and Moussa Dembele at half-time but the pattern remained unchanged. Wolves were largely dominant and were perhaps unlucky not to extend their lead. Schwarzer had to tip over a rising Hunt drive while Stephen Fletcher and Jarvis all went close. The home side looked hungry and vibrant and Fulham’s usually dependable defence wilted under sustained pressure.
Only in the final quarter did the visitors summon a response. Andy Johnson, who was horribly isolated as a lone striker, drew a fine save from Hennessey and as Clint Dempsey, who had been a doubt to start the game after suffering from back spasms in the warm-up, looked set to pull one back, Stephen Ward threw himself in the way of the American’s shot. There’s much to ponder for Jol, who might be forced to rethink his decision to separate Hangeland and Hughes at the heart of what was once a disciplined Fulham defence.
WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS (4-4-2): Hennessey; Stearman, Ward, Berra, R. Johnson; Henry, O’Hara, Hunt (Foley 84), Jarvis (Kightly 90); Doyle, Fletcher (Elokobi 90). Subs (not used): De Vries, Hammill, Milijas, Ebanks-Blake.
BOOKED: Doyle, Hunt.
GOALS: Doyle (42), Jarvis (45).
FULHAM (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer; Hughes, J.A. Riise, Senderos, Hangeland; Etuhu (Sidwell 45), Murphy, Duff, Kasami (Dembele 45); Dempsey; A. Johnson. Subs (not used): Etheridge, Kelly, Briggs, Gecov, Frei.
BOOKED: Dembele, J.A. Riise.
REFEREE: Mike Dean (Wirral).