The league table won’t make happy reading for Scott Parker as he heads into the international break, but this was an awful lot better from Fulham. The newly-promoted side are still propping up the Premier League after four defeats from four and their chances of survival probably depend on how many centre halves they can attract to Craven Cottage by tomorrow night’s transfer deadline, but there were beaten by the narrowest of margins at Molineux this afternoon and pushed Wolves all the way.
Pedro Neto’s stunning strike sealed it ten minutes into the second half. His arrowing finish into the bottom corner was preceded by a fine block from Antonee Robinson, who had an encouraging league debut as an enterprising full back, that left Alphonse Areola, who had previously pulled off a couple of stunning double saves, with no chance. The visitors’ deflation was obvious, with four white shirts flat on their back in the aftermath of the goal, but they produced a creditable fightback, with another eye-catching cameo from Ademola Lookman to the fore, and should have claimed a valuable point only for Aboubakar Kamara to shoot tamely at Rui Patricio after the best move of the game.
Parker’s solution to Fulham’s comically porous defence was to pair Maxime Le Marchand and Tim Ream together at the heart of back four, with Joe Bryan playing in front of Robinson down the left. You felt that system was designed to shackle Adama Traore, who actually started on the bench for Wolves, but the template served the strugglers well in a first half largely devoid of presentable chances. Areola made a routine save from a Raul Jimenez header before Robinson showed plenty of adventure in carrying the ball to the edge of the Wolves box, although his shot lacked the conviction of the American’s run.
Wolves gradually upped the tempo as they found their feet following a slow start, with Areola doing brilliantly to first keep out a low drive from Neto and then block Nelson Semedo’s follow-up from eight yards out. There were few further alarms, even as Jimenez guided a near-post corner across the face of goal where there were only white shirts to clear the danger. Fulham had plenty of possession and were restricting their hosts to largely speculative efforts, with Reuben Neves dragging one fractionally wide from 20 yards out after a clever link-up between Semedo and Leander Dendoncker down the right. Areola then saved smartly from Jimenez and Dendoncker in quick succession, before the game’s decisive moment.
Ream struggled to clear his lines as he lost his footing on the edge of the box and, although Robinson got his body in the way of Dendoncker’s drive, the ball broke to Neto on the left angle of the area. Both Aleksandar Mitrovic and Aina flung themselves towards the ball, but the Portuguese winger’s true finish found the bottom corner to give Nuno’s side the lead. If anyone was expecting the floodgates to open, they would have been pleasantly surprised by the way Fulham hauled themselves off the canvas and took the game to Wolves.
Lookman, who perhaps could consider himself unlucky not to have made the starting eleven after shining from the substitutes’ bench at Brentford in midweek, immediately enlivened his new side. He created a chance out of nothing when a Wolves’ free-kick was punched in his direction by Areola. The former Charlton youngster darted away from a couple of challenges, swapped passes with Cairney and threaded a lovely ball through to Mitrovic on the right wing. The Serbian striker unselfishly squared it for Kamara, but the Frenchman’s lacklustre finish was straight at Patricio from twelve yards out.
Lookman continued to pose a nervy Wolves’ defence problems. He created an opportunity for Neeskens Kebano with another clever pass, but the Congolese winger spooned his shot over from a tight angle. Kebano made a far better connection with the game’s final opportunity, but his dipping drive cleared the crossbar after excellent hold-up play from Mitrovic. This display suggests there is plenty of spirit in the camp, but Parker badly needs reinforcements if Fulham are to be competitive in the top flight.
WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS (3-4-3): Patricio; Boly, Coady, Kilman; N. Semedo (Hoever 78), Saiss, Neves, Dendoncker; Podence (Moutinho 70), Neto (Traore 82), Jimenez. Subs (not used): Ruddy, Buur, Vitanha, Silva.
GOAL: Neto (56).
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Areola; Aina, Robinson, Ream, Le Marchand; Anguissa, Cairney; Cavaleiro (Lookman 67), Bryan (Kamara 67), Decordova-Reid (Kebano 81); Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rodak, Odoi, Hector, Johansen.
BOOKED: Le Marchand.
REFEREE: Darren England (South Yorkshire).