With Burnley now plying their trade in the top flight, Moulineux must be right up of their as one of the most unhappy hunting grounds Fulham will visit this season. The Whites haven’t won a league game at Wolves since a handsome four-goal victory in April 1985 and lost their last four league games against this afternoon’s opponents – with Wolves scoring three times in all of the last three fixtures. The few hardy souls who almost froze watching Kit Symons’ side squeeze through an FA Cup replay on penalties two seasons’ back might not know precisely how lucky they were.
Paul Lambert has gradually begun to a steady a ship that seemed to be sinking listlessly once the heady early days under Walter Zenga wore off. Confidence will be buoyed by a spirited showing at QPR last Thursday night – where Lambert’s side came away with a hard-fought 2-1 – and Lambert will be hoping that success, which leaves his side two points above the relegation zone, could be the springboard to halt a run of four straight home league reverses. With Fulham’s fabled generosity and appalling recent record at Moulineux, there can’t have been any better opponents for the Midlands club to target an end to their barren run.
Lambert, whose managerial career stalled after a strange decision to follow his ousting at Villa Park by inhibiting the Venkys-shaped straitjacket at Ewood Park, will have to decide how many changes to make to the side that was successful at Loftus Road. Enforced alterations are likely to see former Fulham goalkeeper Andy Lonergan, who left Craven Cottage after a single season with the club, replace Carl Ikeme after the Wolves number one picked up an Achilles injury at QPR (whether we’ll see a succession of long shots to test the aversion to fielding efforts from distance Lonergan appeared to pick up in the capital remains to be seen) and the highly-rated Kortney Hause come in for Richard Stearman, whose loan deal makes him ineligible. The likes of Dave Edwards and Conor Coady will look to control the midfield, whilst the pace of Ivan Cavaleiro, a surprise starter at Loftus Road last week, could test Ryan Fredericks’ defensive diligence.
Slavisa Jokanovic talked Fulham’s miserly display against high-flying Reading yesterday – highlighting their fifth clean sheet of the season – and central to continuing that solidity at the back will be nullifying the physical presence of Nouha Dicko. The French forward insists he is getting back to his best after a long injury lay-off even though he hasn’t scored in his eight league outings this year, although he has always proven a handful for the Fulham defence in the past. Dicko is likely to lead the line on his own, with Icelandic striker Jon Dadi Bodvarsson having not found the net since August.
Jokanovic was just as strident in his pre-match interviews about the need for Fulham to impose their own style on proceedings as he expects a fairly robust contest. Much has been made in the Midlands of the return of Kevin McDonald, who will be eager to prove a point, and the Scottish schemer has been integral to freeing up Tom Cairney and Stefan Johansen to be more adventurous just in front of him. You wouldn’t expect a Lambert side to offer any of Fulham’s attacking players the sort of luxurious room Reading afforded them last week – so precise passing and sharp minds will be crucial in providing the sort of service upon which Chris Martin has started to thrive.
Consistency has been the most difficult thing to find for Fulham this season. Just when the talk about a potential top six finish appeared to have been dashed by Brighton’s second half revival, along came another five-goal destruction of a promotion rival to start it back up again. Jokanovic is too streetwise to allow his players to be carried away by any euphoria after that dismal Reading defending – but, just as at the AMEX, this game represents a useful yardstick against which Fulham’s early promise can be measured. If the visitors can play the type of incisive, breaking football that put them in such a great position on the south coast, it will likely leave the natives restless – and a positive result on a weekend when most of the sides above the Whites play each other would keep the momentum rolling along nicely.
MY FULHAM XI (4-1-2-3): Button; Fredericks, Malone, Kalas, Ream; McDonald; Johansen, Cairney; Ayite, Aluko, Martin. Subs: Bettinelli, Madl, Sessegnon, Odoi, Parker, Piazon, Smith.