Pavel Pogrebnyak’s flying start to life in English football continued with a hat-trick as Fulham put five past sorry Wolves in a flawless display at Craven Cottage this afternoon. The Russian striker followed up his match-winning goals against Stoke and QPR with three more as Terry Connor’s capitulated in the capital and lifted Fulham to eighth in the table, just three points behind Liverpool.
Martin Jol admitted afterwards that he would try and tie Pogrebnyak, currently on a short-term deal until the end of the season, down to a permanent contract after he showed few signs of needing to adapt to life in England. The Russian international, whose poor form and fitness record meant Stuttgart were happy to offer him an escape with six months of his contract still to run, demonstrated just why he’s become a ready-made replacement for Bobby Zamora with the perfect combination of a header and fine finishes with either foot.
Fulham were in control from the off with Damien Duff shooting narrowly wide from 25 yards inside the first five minutes before Wayne Hennessey was forced into smart saves by Clint Dempsey and John Arne Riise. Wolves were largely penned back inside their own half and their cause was hardly helped when Karl Henry limped off injury after just nineteen minutes to be replaced by Nenad Milijas. The visitors had another let off when some fine interplay between Moussa Dembele and Riise saw the Norwegian’s low cross fall invitingly for Andy Johson, but Hennessey did well to block the striker’s flick.
Connor’s side threatened fitfully and their best openings came from set plays. Richard Stearman headed a Jamie O’Hara free-kick narrowly wide and Kevin Doyle might have felt he should have extended his excellent recent scoring run rather than also failing to hit the target. Wolves were soon punished with some slack marking allowing Pogrebnyak the freedom of the six-yard box to power home a header from Duff’s deep corner. Fulham consolidated their advantage just before half-time when an awful cross-field ball from Kevin Foley allowed the home side to break. Pogrebnyak played the ball out to right for Johnson and then continued his run to cleverly convert his strike partner’s low cross with real aplomb.
Connor might have consoled himself that his side had fought back last weekend from a similar deficit to earn a point at Newcastle in his first game in charge, but a repeat performance never looked likely here. Ten minutes after break, receiving a short free-kick from Dembele, Danny Murphy slipped a ball between the Wolves centre backs. Such was the dozy nature of the defending either Johnson or Dempsey might have latched onto it, but the Texan stepped around Hennessey and rolled home a simple third.
The fourth arrived in similar circumstances five minutes later. Once again Murphy located the space behind the Wolves back four, this time with a lofted through ball that released Johnson. The striker cut inside Stephen Ward and, although Hennessey got hands to his low shot, he could only push the ball out to the waiting Pogrebnyak, who slid in to complete his hat-trick from close range.
Fulham’s fifth was almost the perfect team goal. They toyed with Wolves sending passes to the left and right of an overstretched defence before substitute Mahamadou Diarra, who enjoyed a promising cameo on his first appearance since arriving on a free transfer last week, played in Dempsey with the 22nd consecutive pass of a flowing move and the American took his season’s tally to eighteen with a rising left-footed finish. All that was missing was the goal which Johnson’s industry merited but the striker’s earlier curler had clipped the top of the crossbar.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Hughes, J.A. Riise, Hangeland, Senderos; Murphy (Diarra 69), Dembele, Duff (Davies 80), Dempsey; Pogrebnyak (Frei 85), A. Johnson. Subs (not used): Stockdale, Halliche, Etuhu, Sa.
GOALS: Pogrebnyak (36, 44, 60), Dempsey (56, 83).
WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS (4-5-1): Hennessey; Zubar, Ward, Stearman, Berra; Henry (Milijas 19), Foley (S. Hunt 84), O’Hara, Kightly (Fletcher 61), Jarvis; Doyle. Subs (not used): De Vries, R. Johnson, Bassong, Jonsson.
BOOKED: Zubar, Berra.
REFEREE: Mike Jones (Chesire).