Fulham 1 Wolves 3

What a difference two weeks can make.

It wasn’t so long ago we were heading into fixtures against Ipswich and Rotherham with little (if any) confidence about our prospects.

Now, after two excellent performances against talented opposition, the urge to look up the table rather than over our shoulders is beginning to return.

Paul Lambert deserves credit for masterminding this turnaround in form, though the measures he’s taken to achieve it are fairly simplistic.

When you field your best attacking players and play others in their correct position, a positive outcome is more likely to be received than if you’d done otherwise.

Take the reigns off this Wolves team and they’re a match for any team in this division.

Fulham (an excellent side, by the way) were cut open with regularity yesterday, particularly down the flanks where Helder Costa and Ivan Cavaleiro were back to their diminutive best.

It’s taken this writer some time to warm to the latter but we’re undoubtedly a better side with him than we are without.

That’s an assertion Costa is sure to agree with, given that he seems to benefit from Cavaleiro’s presence more than any other player.

With two buccaneering wingers to focus on (not to mention Ben Marshall and Andi Weimann), teams can’t afford to double up on Costa the way they were a few weeks back.

That gives him the freedom to run at teams and, as Fulham’s full backs found out yesterday, damage them.

If we can keep both players fit and focused over the summer then next season could be mightily enjoyable, providing the spine of the team is also improved.

Given the mooted interest in Costa from a number of Premier League sides, that could prove a difficult ask.

For now though, let’s savour this most satisfying of weeks and hope that it’s the beginning of a strong end to the season.

Fulham Vs Wolves Preview

I do think Wolves have better players than every other team in the bottom half of the league.

But putting it all together on a semi-consistent basis has been a big problem all season.

We’ve also got too many players of very similar ability levels who bring different things to the table, which is why managers keep tinkering trying to find the right combination.

Assuming we do stay up, the decks need to be swept over the summer. Shedding six or seven players is as important as adding the three or four we obviously need.

Until then, I can’t foresee us consistently picking up results with our mix and match lineups.

Fulham

I had one eye on the Fulham Blackburn game while Wolves were turning things around at Griffin Park.

They twice took the lead and had most of the ball as you might imagine, but Blackburn gave as good as they got in the second half and deserved their point.

Wolves have to do exactly what they did against Brentford and stop Fulham getting into their passing rhythm.

They’ve really gathered momentum over the last 10 games and if they’d held on against Blackburn they’d be in the top six.

I thought they looked really good at Molineux in that 4-4 draw, but they’re definitely still vulnerable at the back.

They’ve got where they are with decent form home and away so Craven Cottage is by no means a fortress. We should have a chance.

Wolves

It’s another case of stick or twist for Paul Lambert. Does he persevere with the starting lineup that did well at Brentford but couldn’t break through or bring in some of the players who helped turn it around?

I don’t really mind either way, but we’ve got to try and get something like a settled side for the final run-in.

And the above line up isn’t too bad when you’ve got the likes of Marshall and Cavaleiro in reserve to introduce as we did in midweek.

Also worth remembering that the above eleven did the business at Anfield (with just one change) too so they have some pedigree.

Paul Lambert

Predictions

It would be great to get a result here ahead of the international break. We’d then be heading into two winnable homes games with real confidence.

Can’t see us keeping Fulham out but if Lambert can extract another high intensity performance from the group, we should be able to inflict some damage ourselves.

I’ll go for half of what we saw at Molineux in December – 2-2.

Up The Wolves!

Wolves 4 Fulham 4

If E.T. asked me to explain to him the experience of being a Wolves fan, I’d show him the highlights of this Christmas cracker.

The stuff of neutral’s dreams and an exhausting experience for those on the terraces, so determined were the efforts of both teams to throw the three points away.

It was Wolves who first conceded their lead, with Stefan Johansen given ample space to lash into the top corner of debutant Harry Burgoyne’s goal.

That strike cancelled out Kortney Hauses’ scruffy opener and was arguably against the run of play as Wolves had up until that point set the tempo of the fixture, with Helder Costa and the improving Ivan Cavaleiro once again serving as the focal point of our attacks.

What ensued between the time of that equaliser and the half time whistle was symptomatic of the majority of our performances this season. The defence wiltered at the first sight of sustained pressure, our midfield trio went missing and, before you know it, Fulham are 3-1 up and seemingly cruising to a routine victory.

Burgoyne, who to me recalled memories of a young Wayne Hennessey, must be ruing his luck as his performance did not warrant the concession of four goals.

The youngster would have been forgiven for thinking that the gods were conspiring against him when Tom Cairney lashed Fulham’s third into the goal, it being the sort of strike that he’ll probably try to score a dozen more times this season without reward.

Those who have been watching Wolves over the last two seasons will know that our teenage goalkeeper was always on a hiding to nothing with our current quadrant of defenders playing in front of him.

It was another bad day at the office for all involved, regardless of the fact that Hause and Matt Doherty both bagged themselves a goal.

January’s transfer window cannot come soon enough for Paul Lambert, so desperate is the need for him to add experience to our defensive ranks. It’s a shame that injury has deprived us of the services of Mike Williamson, who would have surely curtailed some of the more basic errors we’ve been making, but we simply cannot afford to wait for the former Newcastle man to regain fitness.

Kevin Thelwell and our new head coach must deliver a commanding centre back in his mould if we’re to start seriously climbing the table and there is an argument also to be had about the need for at least one new full back, given Dominic Iorfa’s frightening regression as of late.

Thankfully, the noise coming out of the club indicates that Lambert will at least be co-leading our mid-season recruitment drive and he’s already spoken of a desire to cut the wheat from the chaff and add some division standard players to our ranks.

Given the state of affairs at halftime, we should take comfort from the spirit shown by the players when clawing their way back into the game. Enthusiasm waned very quickly under Walter Zenga’s stewardship and was never present during Rob Edwards’ brief stint at the helm but the first team once again seem to be playing for their manager, though the visiting side were most generous in their defending for large periods of the second half.

Doherty was given the freedom of Molineux when tapping in Nouha Dicko’s nod on and Cavaleiro had acres in which to sprint before scoring our third, though the fashion in which he did was worthy of praise.

When Dave Edwards buried our fourth it seemed as if we’d completed the most unlikely of comebacks but in true Wolves fashion room was left for a final twist in the tale, that being a second goal for Floyd Ayitè and another equaliser for the Cottagers.

Of all the goals conceded, it was the fourth that was the cause of the most porous defending. You can’t excuse leaving the front and back post exposed at any level of professional football, let alone the division below the top flight.

It was a frustrating end to an otherwise encouraging performance and it’s fair to say that nobody associated with the club has any doubts about the size of the job Lambert has on his hands.

Fosun will need to deliver players of a far superior standing to the likes of Gladon, Oniangue and Silvio if they’re to realise their oft stated Premier League dream.

Wolves Vs Fulham Preview

There are five favourable fixtures between now and the end of December with three of those at Molineux.

If we’re to do anything other than toil at the foot of the table, a minimum 10 point return should be the requirement.

Fulham, Britstol City and QPR are all winnable home matches and even the trips to Cardiff and Forest offer opportunity. But it’s the home form that must be addressed.

I can’t remember Wolves ever losing four consecutive home games before, at least not in the second tier and with only Rotherham doing worse on their own ground, Paul Lambert has to find a solution.

For me that solution means playing with real width and getting the full-backs pushed on. We haven’t done either of these things enough at Molineux and it’s something the crowd are crying out for.

Fulham

Nobody will ever convince me Kevin McDonald was sold for footballing reasons. It defies logic. He was our best player and by all accounts has been one of their best players since joining in the summer.

Along with Macca, they also acquired another player (albeit temporarily) I’d hoped to see playing for Wolves in Chris Martin. Those two have offset the losses of Ross McCormack and Moussa Dembele and given the Cottagers a couple of battle hardened Championship performers.

They’re certainly a more solid unit than last season, boasting one of the better defensive records in the league along with a healthy goals scored column. They come into this game just three points outside the play-offs.

Slavisa Jokanovic got Watford promoted and there are signs he’s starting to get things going again at Craven Cottage. The 5-0 demolition job they did on high flying Reading last weekend should be a warning sign to anyone expecting an easy ride on Saturday.

More of their points and victories have come on their travels too, so this certainly isn’t the home banker it might have been in previous years.

Wolves

It was interesting to hear Paul Lambert’s post match analysis following the win over QPR when he explained the reasons behind some of the changes he made to the team.

He suggested Saiss only started because of an injury to Jack Price and Cavaleiro because he thought QPR would lineup with three at the back and wanted to stretch their center halves.

As such, it will be interesting to see if those players retain their places for this one or whether Lambert goes with a different group. Richard Stearman is definitely out, ineligible against his parent club and Carl Ikeme is 50/50 at best.

Assuming Ikeme is out, I’d hope to see the above lineup with only enforced changes from the team that started at Loftus Road. The other alternative would be a more straightforward 442, introducing Bodvarsson up front, but I’m not sure what midfield combination would work in that instance.

Paul Gladon helped himself to a hat-trick for the U23s last week so must be considered worthy of at least a place among the substitutes, particularly given that Dicko is yet to score and Bodvarsson hasn’t netted since August.

Paul Lambert

Predictions

I’ve been making guest contributions to various podcasts and Fulham fan sites this week and backing us to squeak the narrowest of victories, so I’d better stick to that prediction.

Fulham at home has been a nice fixture for us for as long as I can remember, even in the Premier League years. They don’t seem to have such a soft center this season, which could be a problem and I expect them to cause us problems.

But I’ll be brave and stick to my guns – 2-1.

Up The Wolves!

Wolves 3 Fulham 2

Kenny Jackett is anything but predictable.

Doherty celebrates

No sooner had he deemed Rajiv van La Parra surplus to requirements by dispatching the Dutchman to Brighton, he now couldn’t praise the winger highly enough after an immediate recall to the side.

And what of the formation change?

The head coach has come in for all kinds of criticism despite registering three straight wins by playing just one lone forward.

Yet days after losing his star striker, he reverts to 442 and doesn’t even pick the one recognised front man he has on the books.

Utterly bonkers. But it worked.

Despite Fulham enjoying more than the lion share of possession, Wolves continually exploited their defensive frailty by going direct with power and pace.

Michal Zyro profited with two well taken goals and could have easily doubled his tally on a night where every ball seemed to drop in his vicinity.

The Pole matched physicality and aerial strength with the type of composure in front of goal we’ve lacked most of the season, even with Benik Afobe leading the line.

van La Parra couldn’t find that final ball, despite one cross shot that rebounded off the post, but his pace and trickery certainly kept Fulham on the back foot.

Kenny saluted his work rate, which is perhaps telling as to why he was farmed out down south in the first place.

Then there was Jordan Graham, who found it so easy to beat his full back that he did it two, three, four times before releasing the ball.

Despite the unnecessary showboating he assisted Zyro’s opener and created countless chances for his team mates. I’ve yet to see a full-back who can contain his many talents.

Conor Coady was asked to occupy an unfamiliar role down the opposite flank and never truly looked comfortable.

With the game stretched and Wolves twice enjoying a two goal buffer, I would have liked to have seen him shifted inside sooner to break up some of those fluid Fulham attacks.

After Ross McCormack hauled them back into the game for a second time, it seemed an anxious final fifteen beckoned, but late substitutions and some clever use of the ball ensured their efforts harmlessly fizzled out.

Fitting then that Matt Doherty’s one in a hundred (one in a thousand? one in a million?) strike proved to be the winning goal. He’s been an impressive performer since regaining a place in the team.

So a fourth straight victory in stark contrast to the three that preceded it and real cause for optimism moving forward.

Wolves are finding are a way to win and coupled with a manager that could do anything, it’s the opposition who will have to keep guessing.

Long may that continue.

Wolves Vs Fulham Preview

What was probably most surprising about Benik Afobe’s departure is the speed at which it happened.

Fulham Wolves

Usually it makes sense to drag these deals out towards the end of the transfer window as buyers become more desperate and offers become inflated.

Quite why Wolves were prepared to get this done on the quick is anyone’s guess.

The hope would be that they did it to give Kenny Jackett the maximum amount of time to reinvest and rebuild before the end of the month.

But I truly can’t emphasise the word ‘hope’ enough in that sentence.

Fulham

Fulham_FC_LogoIf you wanted an example of how a club can spend big and still struggle, look no further than Fulham.

The Cottagers dished out somewhere between £5-£10 million in the summer and haven’t improved on last season.

They’re down in 19th coming into this game and have just one win in their last 10.

Despite this, they’re actually the Championship’s top scorers having found the net 40 times. The problem is the 43 they’ve conceded.

Richard Stearman hasn’t been able to stop the rot, but the stats and make up of their team suggest they’re open and expansive.

Wolves

It’s fair to say Wolves were a bit like Fulham not so long ago, particularly in the match against Leeds. Dangerous going forward but wide open at the back.

Wolves team for Fulham

But they’ve changed the shape and steadied the ship over the last fortnight and although it hasn’t been pretty, it has been effective.

Benik Afobe’s departure leaves a gaping hole given that Kenny Jackett was arguably shy a forward even with Afobe on the books.

In the immediate, there’s an opportunity for the likes of Zyro, Sigurdarson (pending injury updates) and Le Fondre to get a game.

Given his impressive debut, Michal Zyro might be in the box seat for a Molineux debut, possibly flanked by Graham and Henry who were both rested on Saturday.

The gaffer

Predictions

There’s a good opportunity to improve our dismal home record this month. Fulham, Cardiff and Bolton are the visitors and all are winnable, even without Afobe.

It will be interesting to see how our star forward’s departure effects the balance of the team and whether we can cope until reinforcements arrive.

I suspect we won’t manage a fourth straight cleansheet in the league, but I will back us to emerge victorious.

2-1

Up The Wolves!