August is the month in the football calendar for untrammelled optimism, and most pre-season predictions for their team this season were less than flattering, but the supporters of Wolverhampton Wanderers will finish the second weekend of the season with something of a smile on their face as they look at a league table that sees their team in second place on the Premier League table after a comfortable win against Fulham at Molineux this afternoon. After frittering away a position of relative safety to the extent that the team needed a goal three minutes from the end of the season against Blackburn Rovers, Mick McCarthy also seems to have learned the lesson that, in the thirty-eight game Premier League, every minute of every match counts, and the question that he now faces is that of whether his team can confound their pre-season critics and spend a season of mist and mellow fruitfulness in the relative sanctuary of the mid-table of the Premier League.
What was, perhaps, most encouraging for Wolves this afternoon was the manner of their victory. They mustered seventeen shots on goal over the course of the ninety minutes, and two goals in five minutes just before half-time were enough to secure a win against a Fulham side which has now failed to score in either of its two matches so far this season. There is no need for Fulham supporters to panic yet – two matches into the new season, no matter what they might be hearing from The Emirates Stadium, is too soon to draw many conclusions about a team’s shortcomings – but this is a second consecutive match for them without a goal, and they will need to improve upon this afternoon’s performance if they are to build upon the security of last season. The good news is that they are plenty of capable of it.
This afternoon, though, was all about the Wolves. They started slowly, and indeed it looked for a spell as Fulham might be the first of the two teams to break the deadlock, with chances for Damien Duff and Dickson Etuhu, but Wolves weathered the storm and were a little unfortunate at the other end , when Karl Henry’s shot was deflected wide by Philippe Senderos. Three minutes from half-time, though, Wolves snatched the lead with a moment of improvisation from Kevin Doyle – a cross from the left-hand side saw him swivel and lift the ball into the top corner of the net from a narrow angle. With Fulham now on the back foot, Wolves continued to push and their ambition was rewarded in stoppage time at the end of the half. A curling cross from the right saw Roger Johnson get to the ball just before goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, but his flicked header hit the post, only for Matt Jarvis to roll the rebound into the empty goal.
The second half saw Wolves take their foot off the pedal a little. They could afford to. Fulham were blunt in attack and, although the match may have turned out differently had Damien Duff been on target with a shot which instead sailed harmlessly over, or Clint Dempsey’s rebound from an Andy Johnson shot that was blocked by the goalkeeper squeezed over the line. Most of the second forty-five minutes, though, saw Wolves turning the temperature down and, at the final whistle there was a celebration that hadn’t been seen at Molineux for some considerable time. “We are top of the league”, they sang, and although this status would only last for a couple of hours, it was a celebration that the players deserved for two very solid performances to start their season. The reality of the Premier League will probably set in, of course, and the biggest clubs will pull clear at the top of the table. For today, though, Wolverhampton Wanderers sit in second place in the Premier League table, one of just two clubs to have won their opening matches of the season. That, we can safely presume, will do for now.
Fulham, meanwhile, remain a work in progress. They were aimless and ill-focussed this afternoon and, while it is clearly too soon to start calling for the head of Martin Jol, that only Philippe Senderos really emerged from their performance with much of a cause to have his head held high is clearly something that will trouble their supporters. This is the sort of match that Fulham have tended to excel in over recent seasons. This afternoon, they looked, dare we say it, as if they are already fatigued from a season that started in the Europa League several weeks ago. There is a long way to go this season, of course, but they need to improve if they are to avoid running the risk of sliding into a relegation battle that few would have anticipated a couple of weeks ago. Wolves, on the other hand, looked sharp and, as Mick McCarthy found out last season, in the Premier League, every single point counts.
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