Until Andries Jonker summoned Jakub Blasczykowski and Max Arnold from the substitutes bench, there was little to choose between Slavisa Jokanovic’s Fulham and a Wolfsburg side who have failed to win just one of their pre-season friendlies. The arrival of the Wolves’ two trump cards added a precision that had previously been lacking, offering the evergreen Mario Gomez the opportunity to poach a late brace that put a clear gulf between the teams.
Gomez, who had spurned the easiest chance of the match when he blazed wildly into the Putney End from eight yards out after sprinting away from Denis Odoi, snaffled two late goals that added to a first half header from John Brooks. The towering American centre back was left inexplicably unattended at Daniel Divida’s set play and looped a header over the statuesque David Button, but the contest remained close until the closing ten minutes. First, Gomez capitalised on a splendid through ball from Yunus Malli that cut the Fulham defence open and found the bottom corner and, with six minutes to play, the German international headed home Blasczykoswi’s right wing cross after his movement had completely befuddled Marcus Djalo.
The final score was slightly flattering to the Bundesliga side and might have played a part in Jokanovic’s frustrated press conference that followed. Sone Aluko buzzed around brightly as a false nine, but Brooks slid in flawlessly to avert the danger from his only clear side of goal. It was just the jolt the visitors needed as they gradually ground in gear, with Didavi seeing a shot blocked and the classy Riechedly Bazoer skewing an effort wide from outside the box. The tame nature of Brooks’ opener could have been explained by the early departure of Marcus Bettinelli, who was replaced as a precaution following a hamstring scare, but Button’s display hardly engendered much confidence, especially when he almost conceded a replica of the goal he donated to Derby in April.
Fulham threatened fleetingly with Ryan Sessegnon shooting wide from long range after good interplay between Lucas Piazon and Aluko right on half time, but they found their rhythm after the break after surviving an early scare when Button smothered Yunus Malli’s shot with his feet. Stefan Johansen nearly scored with a free-kick similar to the one that surprised QPR last month, but this time Koen Casteels produced a superb reflex save down to his right. Aluko should have found the far corner a few moments later when Johansen prized open the visiting defence before the rampaging Norwegian volleyed one over the bar.
For a while, Wolfsburg looked a little rattled. A mazy dribble from Aluko culminated in the Nigerian seeing his shot deflected over and substitute Cauley Woodrow sent a free header into the Hammersmith End when found by Piazon’s set play, but the Germans soaked up the pressure before Blaszcykowski and Arnold took centre stage. The pair made an immediate difference and the additional movement in the final third overwhelmed Fulham’s overworked rearguard.
Jokanovic confirmed afterwards that he would expect to be able to fit Kevin McDonald, Tom Cairney and Neeskens Kebano, who were all rested due to injury concerns, into his matchday squad for the Championship opener against Norwich City next weekend, whilst Bettinelli’s hamstring strain shouldn’t rule him out of contention either. The Serbian left nobody in any doubt as to his desire for further additions to bolster his squad in the coming week – but the margin of this defeat at the hands of one of the Bundesliga’s most intriguing squads shouldn’t unduly worry him.
FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli (Button 31); Fredericks, R. Sessegnon, Kalas, Ream (Djalo 80); Cisse (O’Riley 73); Johansen, Norwood; Piazon (Woodrow 64), Ayite (Odoi 61), Aluko. Sub (not used): Norman.
VfL WOLFSBURG (4-3-3): Casteels; William, Itter (Gerhardt 80), Brooks, Knoche; Camacho (Arnold 76), Bazoer, Didavi (Mali 46); Dimata, Hinds (Blaszczykowski 76), Gomez. Subs (not used): Uduokha, Grun, Seguin, Jaeckel.
GOALS: Brooks (36), Gomez (79, 84).
REFEREE: James Linnington (Newport).