Match Report: Fulham 4 Sheffield Wednesday 0

Fulham score their second goal
Fulham score their second goal

It is believed 13 million shoppers hit the high street on Panic Saturday.

Around £1.5billion was expected to be spent in stores and online, with shoppers set to cash in on average discounts of 45 per cent.

More than 4,000 Wedesdayites passed up the opportunity to join in with the festive fun and get some of their Christmas shopping done. They, instead, watched the Owls be given a footballing masterclass in the art of finishing as the side suffered their heaviest Championship defeat of the season.

Wednesday’s lack of confidence in front of goal was extremely evident in the first half. Some of their approach play was quite neat and intricate. However, it is the same old story at the business end of the field. They possess no poacher to stick the chances away when on top in matches.

Tom Lees stabbed wide, Chris Maguire’s low drive was saved, Stevie May saw his flick from close range cleared off the line and Lewis McGugan curled a free kick into the side-netting before the half-hour mark.

There must be a huge part of Owls boss Stuart Gray that wishes he still had Matty Fryatt or Connor Wickham in his ranks to solve their goal-scoring problems.

Gray said: “We are wasting opportunities. It was the same last week against Wolves.

“I lost count of the number of times the ball flashed across the six-yard box and we have to be better in terms of getting on the end of these balls.

“I had a little pop at the lads in the dressing room. You’ve got to have a real hunger and desire to get in between the posts even if that means getting hurt or getting a few stitches for the team.

“We do so many crossing and finishing sessions every day and we have to have desire to get the ball in the box. It’s gambling. It’s reading situations. Jeremy [Helan] got into two or three good positions. Sometimes it’s difficult to keep up with him because he’s so quick.

“Every day in training the boys are in there, but it’s about stepping up at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon. We’re not taking out chances. It’s probably a lack of ruthlessness and taking responsibility.”

Yet again Wednesday’s inability to seize the initiative in matches came back to haunt them.

Defensively Gray’s troops have been compact, resolute and difficult to break down on the road, conceding a miserly seven goals in their 10 previous matches away from Hillsborough. But it all went horribly wrong in West London.

Fulham punished Wednesday’s sloppy, uncharacteristic defending.

As a deflated Gray pointed out post-match, the visitors gave “cheap, stupid” free-kicks away around their box, enabling Fulham to have a free shot at goal. The Owls head coach told his players not to give Ross McCormack, an £11 million summer signing from Leeds United, a sniff from dead-ball situations as the striker has proven over the years he is capable of hurting sides from that department. Gray’s warnings fell on deaf ears.

No goalkeeper in the world would have stopped McCormack’s exquisite 34th-minute set-piece but Owls skipper Glenn Loovens, forced off in the second half with a hamstring injury, will be disappointed with his clumsy tackle on Seko Fofana.

Gray said: “We saw him [McCormack] do that against Nottingham Forest. We worked on defending it and having a big wall. He has got quality but that’s what happens if you keep giving cheap fouls away around the 18-yard box. We then had to chase the game.

“It’s all about the first goal. We need to get it. If we had done, then Fulham would have had to have opened up and chased and we would have picked them off.”

Fulham’s second goal was not much better from the Owls’ perspective and it came after May and Helan spurned a couple of presentable chances to restore parity.

Shaun Hutchinson rose highest to nod in Bryan Ruiz’s free-kick after Helan upended Jack Grimmer out wide. That was a killer blow on the stroke of half-time.

“We didn’t defend the second set-play properly,” conceded Gray. “Their boy [Hutchinson] wanted it more than any of my defenders and attacked the ball.”

Fulham’s second forced Gray into making tactical changes. Atdhe Nuhiu and Royston Drenthe, both left out of the starting line-up in favour of Jose Semedo and Joe Mattock, came on to give Wednesday more attacking intent.

But Fulham, relegated from the Premier League last season, always carried the greater threat in the final third. There was an end product to their build-up play whereas Wednesday looked toothless up front.

For the home side’s third goal, Gray’s men were inexplicably caught napping on the counter-attack. Maguire’s corner was cleared and Lasse Vigen Christensen, a constant menace, led the charge before exchanging passes with Hugo Rodallega and firing a rasping right-foot shot past Keiren Westwood with the aid of the post.

Even at 3-0 down, the thousands of Wednesdayites who made the long trek continued to sing their hearts out and wear their colours with pride. They got the away stand bouncing but their team didn’t deliver.

Cauley Woodrow completed the rout from the penalty spot in added on time. The striker, who should have been given a spot-kick himself after a collision with Westwood, made no mistake from 12 yards after Claude Dielna brought down Patrick Roberts.

Gray said: “We have been done from three set-plays.

“We can’t become a charity team. We should have been out of sight against Wolves last week. We are giving teams chances. We didn’t stop the cross and defend the back post properly and Leon Clarke scored. We are not getting done by good play. We are gifting goals. It’s got to stop. We have to get back to what we were doing before.

“We have got to get that first goal and give ourselves a starting point. The most important thing is we have got to become difficult to beat. When we have gone to Middlesbrough, Brighton and Birmingham, that’s what we have done well, and we have got to get back to that level.”

The truth is Wednesday shipped in soft goals and failed to work Fulham goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli anywhere near enough. Of the visitors’ 17 attempts, only two were on target.

Despite back-to-back league defeats, this is not the time to panic. There will be other setbacks between now and May but people should remember Gray has turned Wednesday from relegation candidates into a midtable outfit in the space of 12 months.

One thing is for certain. Wednesday will definitely be active in the January sales as they look to strengthen their goal-shy forward line.

Fulham: Bettinelli 7; Grimmer 7, Bodurov 6, Hutchinson 7, Stafylidis 7; Parker 7; Christensen 8, Fofana 7 (Williams 64*, 6); Ruiz 7 (Roberts 87***); McCormack 7, Rodallega 7 (Woodrow 82**). Substitutes: Kiraly, Zverotić, Hyndman, Burn.

Wednesday: Westwood 5; Palmer 5, Lees 5, Loovens 5 (Dielna 71), Mattock 5 (Drenthe HT**, 5); Maguire 5, Lee 5 (Nuhiu HT*, 5), Semedo 6, McGugan 5, Helan 6; May 5. Substitutes: Kirkland, Lavery, McCabe, Maghoma.