Following a heartening aggregate victory over Wolfsburg in the Europa League, the lupine theme continued with the visit of Wolverhampton Wanderers, two cities that are, unfortunately, not twinned with each other. A missed opportunity by the respective city’s elders, I fear.
The heat of the sun, and a common triumphing over relegation, engendered a suffocating ambience, with both teams slow to anger throughout. In fact, the players demonstrated as much desire to wrestle with fate as the inflatable lamb being tossed around amongst the boisterous Wolves supporters.
With the visitors mimicking Fulham’s typically obdurate away displays, together the two teams conspired to choke any panache out of the game. Despite the impending stalemate, Zoltan Gera’s renaissance continued with an edgy, probing display. Indeed, it was only his effort and creativity that threatened to rupture the indifference gripping the Fulham players.
In the second-half, Damien Duff was granted a golden opportunity to purloin a few more points and make the overhauling of Birmingham City in the league table considerably more achievable. However, when released on goal by Gera he showed a disappointing lack of faith in his right foot, his - now almost trademark - switch to his left allowing Elokobi to intervene. Similarly, Bobby Zamora, on the rare occasion that he escaped from Craddock’s claustrophobic embraces, crafted a fine shot on the turn from 18 yards that glanced from the post.
But this was a training game in all but name. A nonchalant scuffle, and no more. As the second-half proceeded in slow motion, calls for substitutions to inject a little vim increased but, oddly, Hodgson resisted to the end. Although not one to wilfully exploit his bench, it was a curious decision. Despite the lack of urgency, this was an attritional, energy-sapping outing, with an incredibly significant Europa League semi-final against Hamburg approaching. Even if additional Premier League points were deemed dispensable, the logic of withdrawing a few players in preparation for that game would have appeared inarguable. One can only assume that maximising the together-time of the players set to play was considered a greater priority.
Volcanic ash notwithstanding, one hopes that the atmosphere this Thursday is a touch more volatile, and the expansion of lungs considerably more enthused.