On this evidence, the Championship could prove to be a very tough nut to crack for Felix Magath. Famously never relegated before he tried to right Fulham’s sinking ship last season, the German’s wholesale Craven Cottage clearout was meant to refresh a stale squad for an immediate return to English football’s top table. Magath might have blooded some of Fulham’s highly-rated youngsters, but the streetwise nature of Mick McCarthy and Ian Holloway – experts at winning points in this division – has made his introduction to the second tier a frustrating one so far.
Holloway had attempted to make this a paupers v princes contest in the build-up, highlighting how Fulham paid big money for Ross McCormack, The Scottish striker started on the bench, resting a calf that had tightened in the opening day defeat at Ipswich, and eight of the home side’s matchday squad had graduated from their much-talked about academy, but the real difference between the sides was in style. Millwall were regimented and organised, far from fussy in possession and dogged, whist, for far too long, Fulham – despite four changes from the defeat at Portman Road – were ponderous and predictable, creating pretty passing patterns rather than pressure on the Millwall goal.
It was pressure that was required after the visitors opened the scoring from their first attack after eleven minutes. Ricardo Fuller, who proved a handful all afternoon, drew Tim Hoogland and Cameron Burgess out to the right flank and his deep cross eventually fell for Martyn Wolford to steer into the empty net. Fulham’s early promise – which saw Thomas Eisfield draw an instinctive save from the impressive David Forde – petered out as Holloway’s side grew in confidence and the visitors wasted a couple of good opportunities to extend their lead before the break.
Woolford, an energetic presence down the Millwall right, created half an opening for Jimmy Abdou, but the midfielder’s ambitious effort from distance was an awkward one that flew over the bar. Scott Malone’s dipping volley looked as though it might surprise Jesse Joronen, but the Fulham goalkeeper reacted well to turn it aside for a corner. Fulham’s threat was rather more limited. Alan Dunne’s superb saving tackle denied Hugo Rodallega a sight of goal before Burgess extended Forde with a header from a corner and Scott Parker drove a speculative effort narrowly over.
Magath introduced McCormack at half-time and Fulham played at a far higher tempo after the break. The former Leeds striker almost immediately unlocked the Millwall defence, playing in Rodallega, but the Colombian’s shot was smartly saved by a scrambling Forde. At the other end, Scott McDonald’s superb slide-rule pass sent Malone through on goal, but the full-back was denied by a sprawling save from Joronen.
Fulham’s attacks carried greater potency when teenage winger Patrick Roberts replaced Eisfield after an hour and he almost created an equaliser for McCormack but Forde did brilliantly to palm aside the Scottish striker’s attempted finish. When the Republic of Ireland goalkeeper was beaten, as Rodallega turned and fired a close-range shot goalwards, Dunne was perfectly positioned to clear off the goal line. Roberts himself was denied by Forde from 20 yards but, for all Fulham’s pressure, the visitors had the clearest chance late on.
Substitute Magaye Gueye surged clear after collecting a misplaced pass from Parker but Joronen made himself break and smothered a weak effort. Holloway’s men hung on to record their second successive win and leave Magath hoping for better against Wolves on Wednesday night.
FULHAM (4-3-2-1): Joronen; Hoogland, Stafylidis, Burgess, Bodurov; Parker, Christensen (McCormack 45), Hyndman; Eisfeld (Roberts 61), G. Williams (David 77). Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Hutchinson, Kavanagh, Woodrow.
BOOKED: Hoogland, Stafylidis, Bodurov.
MILLWALL (4-4-1-1): Forde; C. Edwards, Malone, Dunne, Beevers; S. Williams, Abdou (Gueye 78), Martin, Woolford (Bailey 62); McDonald; Fuller (Easter 73). Subs (not used): Gerrar, Webster, Wright, Gregory.
GOAL: Woolford (11).
REFEREE: Lee Mason (Bolton).