The most telling moment at Molineux this evening came well after the final whistle that put Fulham out of their misery. Stefan Johansen, the man whose energy and desire inspired the second half of the season surge that took Slavisa Jokanovic’s side into the top six, trudged straight off the pitch after an abject display. Marco Ceserani, one of Jokanovic’s trusted lieutenants, remonstrated with him and pointed towards the Stan Cullis Upper, where a few hundred hardy souls had stayed to see Wolves play out time in a routine win that retained their place atop the Championship. He then physically placed Johansen back on the field of play, Johansen strode six or seven yards towards the away fans, did the most cursory of claps and turned to head down the tunnel.
It was an indication that all isn’t quite right at Fulham, which isn’t surprising after a five game winless streak and the added disruption of Craig Klein’s headline-generating departure from the club’s statistical research unit. Given that the Whites haven’t tasted victory at Wolverhampton since Tony Sealey’s hat-trick carried Ray Harford’s side to a 4-0 win in 1984, Fulham fans would have travelled to the Midlands with feint hope, but an expectation that Jokanovic’s quest for perfection might spark a response following the home defeat by Bristol City in midweek.
It wasn’t to be. Wolves, full of confidence after ten wins from their opening fifteen outings, were sharper all around the field and clinical in the opposition box. The manner of the goals that Jokanovic’s side shipped was predictable – both arrived from set-pieces where runners at the near post were afforded the freedom of the West Midlands – and Fulham never looked like recovering from the setback of Romain Saiss’ ninth minute header. Denis Odoi, retained at the heart of a back four in place of Tomas Kalas, allowed the midfielder to get a run on him in the six yard box and the quality of Barry Douglas’ corner meant there was no chance for anyone else to intervene.
The warning signs had already flickered for Fulham. The effervescent Reuben Neves had spurned an early sight of goal – and the lethargic visitors, missing Tom Cairney’s spark, appeared leggy, laboured in possession, and worryingly low on confidence. Diogo Jota, who led the Londoners a merry dance all evening, flashed a drive across goal as the Whites appeared to overwhelmed by the fluidity and movement of Nuno Espirito Santo’s side. They had to rely on John Ruddy to provide them with their only significant opening but even when the former Norwich keeper spilled a free-kick, Kevin McDonald spooned it over the bar from inside the six-yard box.
Wolves wasted little time in punishing their old midfield general for his lapse. The second goal arrived when Ryan Sessegnon was harshly penalised as he strove to win the ball in the left back area, but there was no excuse for Odoi and his colleagues to not anticipate Douglas whipping in another dangerous delivery. Leo Bonatini nipped in between a couple of white shirts and David Button to guide home his sixth goal in as many games – and it appeared as if the home side could inflict some serious damage on any reserves of confidence Fulham had left.
Jokanovic’s side made it to the interval with the deficit still just two – and improved after the break, but the hosts looked as if they could score in every attack. Bonatini poked a beautiful pass from the impressive Ivan Cavaleiro wide and then Button did brilliantly to tip away a header from Bonatini before Jota, presumably taking pity on the opposition, contrived to miss the target from barely two yards out. Fulham’s best chance saw Floyd Ayite shoot wide after some neat link-up play with Ryan Sessegnon but, although they perked up after the introduction of Yohan Mollo and Aboubakar Kamara from the bench, the best chances were still created by the home side.
Wolves moved four points clear of Sheffield United at the summit with this win and it should have been by a significantly wider margin. Jota, Saiss and Bonatini all failed to further Fulham’s misery – and there is much to ponder for Jokanovic over the November international break.
WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS (3-4-3): Ruddy; Bennett, Coady, Boly (N’Diaye 79′); Doherty, Saiss, Rúben Neves, Douglas; Cavaleiro (Enobakhare 75′), Bonatini (Marshall 87′), Jota. Subs (not used): Norris, Batth, Rúben Vinagre, Hélder Costa.
BOOKED: Saiss, Douglas.
GOALS: Saiss (9), Bonatini (26).
FULHAM (4-3-3): Button; Fredericks, R. Sessegnon, Odoi, Ream; McDonald, Norwood, Johansen; Kebano (Mollo 54), Ayite (Soares 63), Fonte (Kamara 70). Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Kalas, Tayo Edun, Cissé.
BOOKED: Johansen, Norwood, R. Sessegnon, McDonald.
REFEREE: David Coote (Nottinghamshire).