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Fulham lack bite as bogey team Wolves provide unwelcome test of accidental European hopes

Premature European football talk turned to ‘we only wanted to stay up’ for Fulham after being outplayed by Wolves for much of their 1-1 draw in the Premier League on Friday.

A lot of the build-up for Fulham vs Wolverhampton Wanderers was about the Cottagers, who have been absolutely fantastic under Marco Silva this season. So fantastic there has been some talk of them maintaining their good form and qualifying for a European competition.

Jamie Carragher said if the season stopped now, Silva would be Premier League manager of the year. Considering Fulham have failed to avoid relegation in a Premier League season in their last three attempts and are comfortably safe already, that is not a bad shout. I am sure Eddie Howe and Mikel Arteta would have something to say, though.

Wolves have been something of a bogey team for Fulham in recent years. Their last win against the Molineux side came in 2018 and their last top-flight triumph came in 2012 – a 5-0 win nonetheless.

Without their star man, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Fulham lacked bite and any sort of presence going forward. They were outplayed by Wolves for the vast majority of the opening 45 minutes. Early on, Joao Palhinha received a needless booking, ruling him out of two London derbies against Brentford and Arsenal having become the first Premier League player to pick up ten yellow cards in 2022-23. His absence could be pivotal going into these two games and with Wolves on top, it was hard for Fulham to not feel pessimistic.

Pablo Sarabia had the first chance of the match, and the second chance, which he took very well. “Wolves come out at night” Martin Tyler said literally seconds before the Spaniard made it 1-0 to the visitors. It was looking bleak for the hosts as Julen Lopetegui’s men took a deserved lead.

Annoyingly for Fulham, their best spell of the first half came in the final ten minutes. After praying for the half-time whistle for the majority of the opening 45 minutes, they would have been frustrated to hear it having won a corner from a teasing Andreas Pereira free-kick.

Fulham were a different side in the second half. Silva brought on Manor Solomon and Sasa Lukic, and it was the former who made the difference with a moment of magic.

The Israeli winger scored an absolute peach, netting in his third consecutive Premier League match. Fittingly, his strike came exactly a year on from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, an act which ultimately led to the player’s transfer to Craven Cottage.

Unfortunately for us, Fulham’s improved performance made the second half a lot less entertaining than the first. Fulham showed character. It was a game of two halves. All of that stuff. The Cottagers proved that European football talk was a bit premature, and Wolves showed us that they will be just fine under Julen Lopetegui.

The Spanish manager has these Wolves players playing how they should be. Matheus Cunha being stretchered off will be a huge blow as the long wait for a striker to score in the league goes on. Cunha has looked the most likely for the Midlands side. Diego Costa does not look dangerous whatsoever, and Raul Jimenez is barely a shade of the player he was pre-injury, which is understandable; it was a bloody horrific injury.

Wolves will be just fine. Relegation won’t happen, I am pretty sure about that. Fulham, on the other hand, risk becoming the sort of team everyone will want to play pretty soon. European football is probably a premature, unexpected, but welcome thing to talk about, but they should be ambitious, otherwise they will have nothing to play for pretty soon. Saying that, I am sure they would have bit anyone’s hand off to be in this situation if you offered it at the start of the season.

Coming from behind and getting a result they might not have deserved is a good sign. They did it last week at Brighton and if they keep grinding out results, they could manage to do something very, very special this season.

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