Just when Fulham seemed to have sealed the deal and claim their first victory since Southampton, their lead slipped away thanks to a tap in with five minutes to go. It has been that kind of season for Fulham where clean sheets have become a luxury than the norm. And in this instance, Claudio Ranieri’s men just seemed to have given up too much of the ball for their own good when complete control of the game was required.
But this is without the fact that, despite barely having 40% possession in the first half, Fulham were the dominant side. Aleksander Mitrovic might as well have had a hat trick with the work rate that he produced today. It was a reminder of how much he was a spark plug towards Fulham’s promotion back to the Premier League and a complete nightmare for Wolves when these two sides met last time.
Among his seven shots during the opening 45 minutes, one shot involved him gathering the ball so well and transitioned the ball from his right foot to his left to skin past one defender. But instead of taking a quick one that could have gone past Rui Patricio, Mitrovic decided to take one more dribble to go past another defender and took a shot that was much easier to save as Patricio was able to move closer to the center forward. It was the major highlight that saw Mitro and Andre Schürrle combine well.
In defense, Calum Chambers continued to be a bedrock in front of the back line with two tackles and six interceptions in the first half alone, while Jean Michael Seri completed 91% of his passes. The game was admittedly ugly at times as referee Andre Marriner let plenty of challenges go. However, it seemed like a period of promise that was going to deliver a Fulham victory in the long run. It was not to be the case.
By the time Marriner started the second half, it was Wolves’ turn to return the favor. It was as if the ball only wanted to be at the Putney End all afternoon. Raul Jimenez was beginning to impose his will on the game just as Ivan Cavaleiro and Helder Costa have been introduced into the fixture. It was a front three that have been comfortable with each other all season and it was a front line that caused much more problems to Ranieri’s men to the tune of 11 shots. Along with that, Fulham’s possession dwindled to just over 21% and their passing was a Cardiff City-like 67% completion rate. Yeah, it was that awful.
But once Ryan Sessegnon came on for Schürrle in the 68th minute, Fulham’s attack came to light thanks to a younger and more vibrant player willing to take Wolves’ defenders on. When Mitrovic was fouled just before the 73rd minute, an opportunity presented itself for Fulham. From there Seri delivered a solid free kick towards an open Alfie Mawson who headed it towards goal. Thanks to some pressure by Denis Odoi, Patricio was only able to punch the ball away but only for such a short distance. From there Sessegnon was able to gather it one time and put it inside the net. The ball did get cleared out but not before it crossed the line as was confirmed by Mariner and goal line technology to make it 1-0 Fulham.
Craven Cottage was set alight and they were demanding to see the game being put to bed. Instead, Wolves kept pressing. Things didn’t help at all when Ranieri decided to substituted Seri and Aboubakar Kamara for Tom Cairney and Kevin McDonald. The changes resulted in what looked like a mangled 5-4-1 with Mitrovic isolated and Cairney playing out wide when he should be controlling things centrally for the second straight contest. It was only a matter of time before Wolves were able to get one Grade A chance and they were able to get it in the 85th minute.
After the ball was worked down the left hand side, Joao Moutinho was able to play a throughball towards Cavaleiro who put a on-touch cross flashing towards goal. Joe Bryan did his best to mark out the man and ball but couldn’t do both at the same time. The result was a ball that was there to be tapped in as Sergio Rico was out of the picture for diving early and Romain Saiss was there to tap it home.
Fulham did have one more chance to win it thanks to Rico hoping to make amends. The Spaniard was able to pump one longball out to Mitrovic who somehow confounded the two defenders trying to stifle him. It let to a unbalanced attempt at goal that got past the hurrying Patricio but was cleared just off the line by captain Conor Coady to save the day for the visitors. From there the contest came to a close.
Fulham are no longer dead last in the league for now, but they should have claimed three points. They are a much more resolute side in defense, but they still couldn’t get a clean sheet because their tactics stymied their attack once again and have forced their best players to play out-of-position. In Tom Cairney’s case, some are not even starting at all.
In short, Ranieri has been more than determined to make this football club a more resolute bunch, and he beginning to do that. But clearly this philosophy is not full proof and they will eventually have to find their goal scoring and buildup touch once again. Simply put, I have not seen a top tier side in Europe be known for scoring goals in bunches to their full capability while playing three at the back in this modern era and I doubt Fulham will break that trend this season. But for the sake of staying up, they look like they have no choice but to play this way. If it can create a stable football club, regardless of what lies ahead next season, I’m all for it. But until then, I do miss some of the Slavisa Jokanovic philosophy when it is required and in some way, that is what costed them victory today.