Steven Fletcher’s first goal of the season was enough to earn Sheffield Wednesday their first win of the new campaign as Fulham endured another frustrating afternoon at Craven Cottage. The optimism of the past week, epitomised by the arrival of debutante Rui Fonte from Braga, evaporated after Slavisa Jokanovic’s side put in another patchy performance undermined by familiar failings in both boxes.
Fletcher helped ease the pressure on Owls boss Carlos Carvalhal by clinically dispatching the visitors clearest chance of the contest on 63 minutes. Kevin McDonald uncharacteristically surrendered possession and Adam Reach burst down the left flank towards the by-line. His cut back found Fletcher in acres of space and he sent a low volley beyond the reach of David Button – a strike that left Fulham winless in their first four Championship games.
In one respect it was harsh on the home side. They had made much of the running in the first half and still carried a threat after the break. But Fulham were punished for failing to take any of their chances. Sone Aluko spurned two glorious chances from set pieces – the first when he inexplicably failed to head home from close range after Denis Odoi nodded on Fonte’s flag kick and, then, from another corner, when he couldn’t divert lower cross home from less than six yards out. Stefan Johansen sent a rasping drive fractionally over Kieren Westwood’s crossbar and, right on the stroke of half time, McDonald powered a header over from seven yards out having been expertly found by Fonte’s free-kick.
Wednesday threatened sporadically on the counter, growing into the game as Barry Bannan and David Jones established a foothold from the centre of midfield. The visitors fashioned a couple of good chances from set-plays with Gary Hooper heading over from a corner and Fulham also scrambled the ball away from Fletcher’s feet after fine approach play from Jack Hunt. Carvalhal’s side were much more positive after the break and Hunt’s low cross caused palpitations in the Fulham defence as it fizzed across cross goal before Tim Ream slid in to divert the ball behind. Fletcher was foiled from the ensuing corner – and Fulham were soon on the front foot again.
A speedy break saw Aluko bustle into space on the edge of the Wednesday box before slipping a lovely pass through to the rampaging Ryan Sessegnon. The teenager kept his head down and dragged his shot across Westwood and wide with Fonte unmarked in the middle. You got the feeling that miss might prove crucial – and it eventually did, even if Wednesday’s warning went unheeded when Fletcher smashed home the loose ball after Bannan had drawn a top save from the former Brentford keeper and the Scottish international was flagged offside.
Fulham’s reprieve proved only temporary with Fletcher’s clinical finish only adding to a sense of injustice amongst the home fans after Johansen had been chopped down on the edge of the penalty area. Carvalhal’s charges were happy to sit back on their lead and absorb the Fulham pressure, which never really looked like overwhelming them. Westwood made a fine reaction save to push away Neeksens Kebano’s drive after he turned dangerously inside the penalty area and the Fulham substitute also forced the Wednesday keeper to hold a powerful shot at his near post.
Jokanovic threw on Aboubakar Kamara for the final quarter of an hour in a bid to salvage a point but Fulham could never quite build up the head of steam that a comeback against a well-drilled Wednesday side was going to muster. The hosts enjoyed plenty of possession, but lacked the penetration required even if a phalanx of forwards on the pitch by the time that clocked ticked over into injury time. In fact, it was the visitors who nearly sealed their smash-and-grab with a second but Button saved well from Fletcher at his near post.
This wouldn’t have been the debut that Fonte envisaged or the sort of start that Jokanovic had desired. Whilst it remains early in the new season, four winless league games leaves the Whites well behind the early pace-setters with one of the early season’s surprise packages, Ipswich Town, limbering up as their next Championship opponents.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Button; Fredericks, Odoi, Kalas, Ream; McDonald (Kamara 75), Johansen (Norwood 62); Cairney, Aluko (Kebano 62), R. Sessegnon; Fonte. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Djalo, Cisse, Ojo.
BOOKED: McDonald, Fredericks.
SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY (4-4-2). Westwood; Hunt, Lees, Pudil, Fox; Boyd (Palmer 90), Jones, Bannan, Reach; Hooper (Forestieri 81), Fletcher (Nuhiu 90). Subs (not used): Wildsmith, Wallace, Abdi, Rhodes.
GOAL: Fletcher (64).
REFEREE: Stuart Attwell (Nuneaton).