New defence, same result. A smart finish from Pedro Neto secured a narrow victory for Wolves as Scott Parker’s Fulham side suffered a fourth successive defeat since returning to the Premier League.
But while the Fulham manager will be desperate to add reinforcements on transfer deadline day with a £16m move for Barcelona’s Jean-Clair Todibo, there was some encouragement that his side can bridge the gap this time around.
Having made three changes to his back four after stinging criticism on social media from Tony Khan, Fulham’s director of football operations after the defeat to Aston Villa last week, at least this time Parker’s side stayed in the contest until the final whistle – thanks largely to a strong performance from goalkeeper Alphonse Areola.
Had Aboubakar Kamara made the most of his gilt-edged chance 10 minutes from time, however, it could have been much better for the visitors.
Between them these two teams shipped 17 goals in their opening three matches and recorded just one victory. Yet while Fulham’s defensive woes have been well documented, Wolves have also showed signs of brittleness at the back at the start of this campaign.
Former Fulham academy player Max Kilman – who gave up his status as an England futsal international when he joined Wolves from non-league Maidenhead United in 2018 – was drafted into the three-man defence for only his third Premier League start, with Romain Saiss switching to left wing-back. Perhaps anticipating the danger of Adama Traoré on the opposite flank, Parker selected Antonee Robinson and Joe Bryan to double up, only for his counterpart, Nuno Espírito Santo, to spring a surprise by selecting Daniel Podence as one of three changes to the side that lost 4-0 at West Ham last week.
But while he would have been encouraged by a solid start that saw Bryan sting the gloves of Rui Patrício as Fulham tried to venture forward, a familiar defensive lapse in the 29th minute almost undid all their good work. Ivan Cavaleiro’s attempted flick deep inside his own half against his former employers was ill-advised and it took an excellent double save from Areola to deny Neto and then Nélson Semedo from the rebound.
Apart from that, however, an improvised flick from Raul Jiménez, who ended speculation about his future by signing a new contract until 2024 on Saturday, was the closest Wolves came to finding the deadlock in a first-half performance that was seriously lacking in intensity. Fulham’s best hopes of scoring – as always – looked to come from Aleksandar Mitrovic, but the Serbia striker was largely forced to feed off any scraps that came his way.
A Rúben Neves effort from outside the area that fizzed just wide of the post was at least a signal of intent from Wolves at the start of the second half. Jiménez should have made more of his opportunity after a speculative long ball forward, but once again found Areola in his path. However, the French World Cup winner, who is on a season-long loan from Paris Saint-Germain, could do nothing to stop Neto’s low drive from a tight angle on 56 minutes, after Fulham had failed to clear their lines.
Parker introduced RB Leipzig loanee Ademola Lookman from the bench with a quarter of the game to play but it was a fellow substitute – Kamara – who spurned the best chance of equalising. In acres of space following a quick break upfield from Lookman’s pass, Mitrovic surprisingly chose to pass to his teammate instead of shooting, and could only watch as Kamara’s shot went straight at Rui Patricio. Fulham will at least be thankful that Lookman was not punished in injury time after he appeared to kick out at Neves after being fouled.