Football can be a cruel, horrible, unforgiving sport at times.
A point away from home in the hustle and bustle of the Championship should never be sniffed at. But, deep down, Sheffield Wednesday know they should have bagged all three at Craven Cottage.
Wasteful finishing and careless defending late on - I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve commented on those areas since August 7 - cost them dearly in the capital.
Scott Malone’s 91st-minute strike cancelled out Fernando Forestieri’s exquisite early opener to stretch the Owls’ winless run to three matches.
It was a much-improved Wednesday showing and they should have been out of sight at half-time.
After Forestieri’s 10th-minute cracker (more on that later), Ross Wallace, Barry Bannan, Gary Hooper and Forestieri all had opportunities to put the contest to bed. If they had gone into the interval leading by two or three goals, it would not have flattered them in the slightest.
But Carlos Carvalhal’s men let Fulham off the hook and paid the price in the second half. The Cottagers upped the ante after making a double substitution in the final 14 minutes and piled on the pressure. Ex-England international Scott Parker beefed up their midfield and helped wrestle the initiative away from Wednesday.
“We are not happy with the scoreline but I am very happy with our performance,” insisted Carvalhal. “We played with personality and created chances.
“We deserved more. We felt we achieved one point but lost two.”
After back-to-back league defeats, Carvalhal decided to revert back to the side who fared so well in their promotion charge last season. Ten of the 11 who started at Fulham played in the Championship Play-off Final last May. Only Daniel Pudil was missing, with Adam Reach filling in at left-back.
It was a big shake-up by Carvalhal, with Glenn Loovens, Wallace and Forestieri returning while Sam Hutchinson started in central midfield for the first time since Wembley.
Aside from club-record buy Reach, it was striking how Carvalhal ditched the rest of his summer signings. Both Steven Fletcher and David Jones dropped to the bench as Carvalhal went back to what served them well in the past in search of a morale-boosting win.
What Carvalhal’s changes underlined is that the affable Portuguese chief still, after 17 matches, does not know his strongest team and that the club’s summer recruitment drive has yet to pay dividends.
FERNANDO HITS TOP FORM
A huge positive for Carvalhal and Wednesday, though, was Forestieri’s lively display.
Just as he did before the trip to Huddersfield Town, Carvalhal talked up the striker, claiming the little Argentine was looking “very, very strong” and “powerful” in training. Assistant coach Lee Bullen said Forestieri was “like a man possessed”.
The coaching staff and fans have been waiting to see the best of Forestieri this term and he finally turned on the style.
He seemed determined to prove a point from the off.
His movement terrorised Fulham’s defence and he constantly harried and harassed centre-backs Tomáš Kalas and Ragnar Sigurdsson.
Forestieri’s fourth goal of an inconsistent campaign was poetry in motion. After two deft, sublime touches by Bannan and Hooper, he drilled a right-foot shot past David Button. The Fulham goalkeeper got a hand to Forestieri’s low drive but couldn’t keep it out. His finish capped off a lovely, free-flowing team move.
“I said Fernando was back before the game as I know my players,” said Carvalhal. “Fernando is a player we need like this.”
A sharp, hungry Forestieri will be a big asset for the Owls over the coming months in their attempts to close the gap on the top teams.
THE GOALS STILL AREN’T FLYING IN
Fulham are a team who harbour promotion aspirations themselves but the Owls were the better side in the opening 45 minutes and should have scored two or three.
The big turning point was Hooper’s chance. The forward, who was later taken off after sustaining an injury, was an excellent foil throughout for Forestieri but he fluffed his lines in a one-on-one situation. Had Wednesday established a 2-0 advantage at the stage, there would surely have been no way back for Fulham.
The Owls’ inability to convert their opportunities when on top in matches has been their Achilles heel all season. Over a third of the matches have now been completed and there are still no signs of them becoming more ruthless in the final third.
It is that lack of confidence in front of goal which contributed to Fulham’s late leveller. Wednesday sat back, inviting the Cottagers on to them after not managing to get the killer second.
After Malone’s equaliser, Fulham finished strongly and could have snatched maximum points had they shown a little more composure. Forestieri was also denied in a thrilling finale.
All in all, a draw was just about right but the result left Carvalhal ruing what might have been.