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Positives and negatives: Fulham 3-2 Wolverhampton Wanderers

Written by Cameron Ramsey on 28th November 2023

We don’t know why we put ourselves through it. CamRam’s blood pressure’s simmered but his review of Fulham’s latest victory will get the juices pumping again, if you can handle it!

We did it. We beat the Sky Sports curse, the MNF hoodoo, and video assisted refereeing finally worked to our benefit – twice! We made hard work of it but there’s probably no sweeter way to guarantee maximum points than at the death, with salty, salty Black Country tears to wash it down with. The crowd went mild!

Gary O’Neill wasn’t impressed with Stockley Park’s interpretation of certain events and as much as I think he’s a quality manager, he can cry off. Every side is hard done by at some point; Wolves aren’t exclusive to this and while there’s grey areas and mistakes which should be eradicated, you gotta suck it up because the simulation which is the Premier League ain’t changing.

Marco Silva’s favourite route to victory is usually a roller-coaster, and so it was on Monday night. Wolves have a practical system, they’re in no danger of going down but in football, luck will often make the difference and Wolves’ fan base can sob as much as they like, the only stat that matters is the final result. Hold that L while we polish this W, fellas.

Positives

These points will matter

It doesn’t matter how they come. It doesn’t matter if we were pushed to the brink of insanity. Laying claim to three points was all-important; we’ve a gruelling December shift in waiting and this win, against a team in similar form and standing in the league, is going to pay dividends. We scrapped it out in the second half following a tepid first 45, the game was in the balance as extra time approached and our persistence, determination and bravery swung a photo finish in our favour (thanks VAR, also).

Last season, 3-2 victories were a common phenomenon. It denotes desire; we were pegged back twice, momentum ebbed but when we had to find solutions in trying circumstances, we upped and ante and we didn’t surrender. We haven’t been stubborn enough this season, towards the latter stages of certain matches our enthusiasm would fade but we were enlivened with full-time in sight and if we’re going to survive, if we’re going to being sucked into a bar brawl, we have to back ourselves no matter what.

We were far from flawless, we’ve deficiencies to address, one hard-fought result doesn’t smooth things over but as we’ve got to respect each game, 90 minutes at a time, we can be satisfied on this occasion because we didn’t let our guard slip. We rolled with the punches, we landed critical blows of our own and we edged what was an exhausting, stressful dust-up.

A performance such as Monday night’s, particularly in the second half, will always be good enough. Whatever the outcome, we have to remain competitive, confrontational and even without the abrasive might of João Palhinha, with a central defensive pairing that have had to muddle through in weeks gone by, with strikers that simply aren’t up to the required standard, we got the job done and we did so, together. We have to demand even more from ourselves and with a congested Christmas coming like a freight train, this win has to be respected and built upon.

Tom’s top-notch influence

When senior figureheads have to assert themselves, Tom Cairney’s a leader we can always, always depend on. He isn’t just a captain by name, he’s a captain by nature and let me tell you, this guy can still cut it at the pinnacle of the English game. With Palhinha out of action, our midfield department required a different mode of action, a mediator to dictate possession and manipulate tempo and Cairney was simply the best player on the park.

Instrumental throughout, TC’s sharpened left peg carved out meaningful phases, his intelligence enabled him to know precisely when to lend possession and he doesn’t admire his passes either. He was ready to receive possession at a second’s notice, far-flung switches landed to feet, routine 10-yard passes stuck and though his legs can only carry him so far nowadays, loose balls were well within his reach.

We can deliberate his involvement which lead to our first penalty of the night, there’s definitely a bone of contention to pick at but he was there, right place, right time, and timing was absolutely everything where Cairney’s imperious input was concerned. He’s mesmeric, at 32 – soon to be 33 – Tom’s powers aren’t depreciating, they’re actually regenerating and while his game time may not be as frequent as it once was, his conduct’s defined by excellence and in terms of technical ability, his remarkable gift, within a middle third consisting of established playmakers, was unparalleled.

Willi’s ice-cold pennos

If only we’d hooked Aleksandar Mitrovic off penalties last season and handed the bagging rights to Willian. We could be on a bloody European tour by now! A brace of pennos, antifreeze surging through his veins, our Brazilian winger was ice cold from 12 yards and he is also off the mark for the campaign, too.

Before placing ball on chalk for both of his spot kicks, there was a drawn out pause as VAR analysed prior altercations, as tensions reached breaking point Willian held his nerve and he thumped both strikes like he meant it. Clutch. He called Jose Sa’s bluff, the Portuguese ‘keeper may have plunged the right way for Willi’s second but there was no stopping it. Not a hope.

I don’t think anyone could ever tire of that twang and clink the net makes when footballs are twatted into it. That’s ASMR in its truest form. Penalties aren’t always the most visually pleasing goals, there’s nothing spectacular about sticking it away from point-blank range but Willian’s just hit different. Either side of the target, staggered run-ups, penalties are pure opportunities to bugger the ball the buggery but there is an art behind it, actually. It’s a trial of wit, composure and with ostrich eggs for knackers, Willi’s goalmouth penetrations were hard, fast and oh so more-ish.

Iwobi: integral and intriguing

He really should’ve stuck away a brace of his own but a single goal, and an alert showing overall, will suffice and we ain’t complaining one bit. Alex Iwobi isn’t shoehorned into various positions, he adapts and overcomes and no matter where he’s fielded, the Nigerian trickster intrigues.

A double pivot of Cairney and Iwobi, on paper, is ridiculously insecure from a defensive standpoint but, you know, vibes and all that, and while Wolves fashioned decent patterns through central areas, Iwobi’s recovery runs were surprisingly disruptive. He’s an attacker by trade, or at least he was. Iwobi was integral during his time at Everton and his responsibilities ultimately changed. With that, he evolved into a midfield handyman, he isn’t necessarily qualified to shore things up or batten down the hatches but he does, willingly, and on the offensive, he’s still that exciting live wire that graduated from Hale End with straight As.

Our first goal was really well worked along the left. Willian sent Antonee Robinson into clear space, the bleach blond American jabbed a low cross into the chaos corridor and Iwobi, on point, prodded it home. Wolves’ defenders dragged themselves up as Alex flexed upon them, his rockstar celebration wasn’t out of place and while his purpose has migrated from being an out-and-out attacker to being a resourceful all-rounder, he hasn’t lost his killer instinct. Well, not entirely.

He was clean through on goal, defenders chewing dust and if he’d set himself in the milliseconds before firing, he would’ve bagged a second. It was a swirling effort but Sa was equal to it, either side of the stopper with a sprinkling of finesse would’ve done the business, and as he let fly, he knew he could’ve taken that extra vital touch. It wasn’t to spoil a his evening, mind. Silva should continue to start Iwobi. I’m here for his hustle, I’m here for his street-style swagger on the ball and as he’s also an honest grafter that will respect his differing duties, he’s tailor made for Marco’s system.

Negatives

Fearful defending at large

We did what he had to do in the end but was anyone else sat there with a clenched ringpiece every time Wolves completed more than two simple passes? The visitors weren’t shy of pressing, Hwang Hee-chan and Matheus Cunha caused all sorts of issues as they combined and both of their goals came as a result of our timid, misjudged defending.

We stood off as the visitors drew level for the first time, we allowed possession to progress with next to no defiance and as Robinson got spun up, two men in gold were left unmarked at the back stick. In yards to himself, Cunha nutted a Jean-Ricner Bellegarde cross into a vacant net and blaming fingers were pointed. A stunned expression washed across defensive faces, the lack of communication and organisation was compounding and we continued to live a charmed existence at the back before the break.

Even Bernd Leno almost did himself a disservice; the very fact Wolves didn’t pull out a healthy lead is beyond reason. They should’ve been up by a couple, game wrapped up, and we would’ve deserved to be behind by a large margin as well. No excuses, our decision making whilst playing out from the back had teeth grinding in the terraces. Luckily Calvin Bassey can shift when he really has to, he ate up the ground to block runners before they could feed crosses and without his and Timothy Castagne’s urgency off the ball, we could’ve been staring down the barrel of a hefty tanking.

As for our guests’ second, it was route one, Sa punted it upfield, Bassey was shrugged off by Sasa Kalajdzic (which isn’t surprising, the bloke’s a walking pylon) and Tim Ream, who was visibly fatigued from the international break, was lucky to escape a second yellow for bundling into Hwang. It was all so clumsy, we were tighter in the second half to an extent but you still feared for our safety whilst we tried to counteract Wolves’ fast-paced interchanges.

Vini’s public tantrum

I’ve noticed a few articles floating about on the apps which suggest that Carlos Vinicius may be on his way back to Brazil in the new year and if that’s the case, I’ll book his taxi to Gatwick and I’ll even chuck in a neck pillow. There’s a distinct difference between being passionately invested and being a dipshit and Vinicius is the latter. He needs counselling, breathing exercises, anything to prevent him from turning into a bellend in public.

It seems he’s attempting to get himself sent off nearly every single time he participates. The sly elbow digs, basically punching Thiago Silva, if he’s going to represent Fulham, or any professional football club, he has to complete an anger management course because his tantrums are going to get us in serious trouble. I suppose it’s a good thing Max Kilman didn’t react to Carlos’s petulant outburst, if he did, the Brazilian would’ve been sent for an early shower, moments after replacing Raul Jimenez but if I’m being honest, I kind of wish he had been.

It’s not like he even offers anything up top other than mindless sprinting and occasional jogging. Those that claim he’s decent are just fibbing to themselves. It’s well documented that I am not an admirer of his, he may score the odd goal every so often but that doesn’t deflect reality. He’s a dreadful striker and he clearly has an ego way, way bigger than it should be. If we sign a proper number nine in January, flog him. If we fail to secure a capable target man, boot him out the backdoor. Simple as.

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