Trite cliché it may be, but Fulham’s recent success has been built around patient, possession football. Mark Hughes might have tinkered with the Hodgson model but he recognised the importance of keeping hold of the ball, especially away from home. By the end of the season, Hughes’ more adventurous method had delivered significant results – three away wins and our best away record since promotion in 2000/2001.
Places like Wolves will always be difficult. Just look at the some of the teams they beat last season: Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United. They are well-organised and will close you down at any opportunity. Molineux regulars will have a sense of early-season optimism for two reasons. Not only has Roger Johnson’s arrival added steel to their defence, but they seem to have developed a cutting edge up front. The wing play of Matt Jarvis was a joy to watch yesterday – unless you were of a Fulham persuasion – and both Kevin Doyle and Steven Fletcher looked sharp up front.
Mick McCarthy also got his tactics spot. Wolves pressed Fulham high up the pitch and played at a swift tempo. It visited unsettled the visitors, who faded quickly after a bright start. It was always likely that Danny Murphy would be shut down swiftly (opposition managers know this is the way to success), but more worrying was the lack of width. Pajtim Kasami, who in his defence is more used to operating centrally, spent more time in his own half than in areas where he could threaten Wolves and too often Andy Johnson was left horribly isolated.
Fulham’s new-look central defence had a torrid afternoon. Not only were they run ragged by the Wolves strikers, but the pressing left them with plenty of the ball. Hangeland, usually so assured in possession, just keep giving it away. Without Bobby Zamora as a focal point or a release valve, his distribution was often aimless, simply surrendering the ball:
Fulham’s midfield never really functioned as a cohesive unit. Dickson Etuhu was perhaps unfortunate to be withdrawn, having misplaced only a single pass in the first period, but Jol was understandably desperate to change the momentum of the contest at half-time. Fulham’s only sustained spell of pressure came in the final ten minutes and Wolves looked far more likely to add to their lead than Fulham did to reduce it. The moral of another disappointing away defeat? Wolves used the ball far more effectively than we did – and they kept it significantly longer.