To say that Ross Wallace has more than a liking for Fulham’s leaky defence maybe an understatement.
For the winger has been instrumental in the Owls completing the double over the Cottagers this campaign.
After claiming three assists in Wednesday’s pulsating victory over Fulham at Hillsborough last September, Wallace inflicted more misery on the West London outfit on Saturday.
Just before the half-hour mark in the pouring rain, the Scot cut in from the right flank on to his stronger left foot and fired an unstoppable 30-yard shot which flew past Andy Lonergan and into the net off the underside of the crossbar.
‘World class’ is how Rodney Marsh described Wallace’s majestic winner and it is hard to argue with the former Manchester City player.
Wallace, who passed a late fitness test, said: “Liam Palmer made a run on the outside and I decided to cut inside. It all closed up in front of me and I couldn’t find a pass.
“So, I thought ‘Just hit it’. I knew it had a chance. I caught it well. It is definitely up there in terms of the goals I have scored in my career.
“I used to play alongside Andy Lonergan at Preston so I had a little giggle with him after the game!”
Wallace’s goal-of-the-season contender ruined Slavisa Jokanovic’s first match in charge of Fulham, although I think Marco Matias’ sublime strike against Leeds United still remains the one to beat.
When asked how it compared to the Matias belter at Elland Road, Wallace joked: “Marco’s came off his shinpad.”
Wallace’s 29th-minute thunderbolt ensured Carlos Carvalhal’s men kicked off 2016 in style, securing their first win on the road since October 23.
“The head coach was joking with me during the week that I used to score goals like that,” said the 30-year-old. “25 years ago, he claimed. Hopefully, I can kick on and get a few more.”
This trip to the capital could not have gone any better for Wednesday. This was pretty much the perfect away performance and a great way for them to end their Craven Cottage hoodoo. On their last 14 league visits to the ground, the Owls had triumphed on just one occasion and that previous success came 49 years ago.
Cheered on by nearly 3,300 loud and proud Wednesdayites, Carvalhal’s charges picked up maximum points, recorded a clean sheet and closed the gap on the top six to two points. All that was achieved without senior players of the calibre of Keiren Westwood, Jack Hunt, Tom Lees, Michael Turner, Alex Lopez, Lewis McGugan and Marco Matias.
Carvalhal got his tactics spot on, letting Fulham dominate the ball. The Owls only had 32 per cent possession but, playing on the counter-attack, carved out the better chances. The visitors could have won by a bigger margin had they shown a little more composure in the final third and not found Lonergan in such inspired form.
Defensively Wednesday were compact and superbly led by skipper Glenn Loovens.
Vincent Sasso, a late replacement for Sam Hutchinson, who pulled out after picking up a knock in the warm-up, delivered an immaculate display.
The Frenchman, making his first start in more than four months, played a key part in nullifying the threat of Fulham dangerman Ross McCormack. He was rock solid, having missed a big chunk of the season due to a knee injury.
Carvalhal said: “That was the real Sasso that I chose to bring to the club. It was not a surprise to me how well he played.
“That was the Sasso I know, the one we saw today, not the one before who felt pain.
“He was angry, wanted to play and I knew that. He had been out a long time. He has only trained in the last two weeks.
“I have absolute confidence in Vincent and I knew if he played he would be okay.”
Including Sasso, Carvalhal made six changes to his side. He fielded an attack-minded line-up, utilising leading scorer Fernando Forestieri on the left wing again. Along with fellow centre-forwards Atdhe Nuhiu and Gary Hooper, he worked tirelessly.
“Fernando is our most creative player but he played on the left and put the team in front of his own personal interests,” said Carvalhal.
“It was a victory from team work. I have always said the team is more than 11 players, and we showed why that is again today.
“We controlled the game in the second half and at the same time we had the best chances. Joe [Wildsmith] didn’t have many saves to make.”
Norwich City loanee Hooper looked sharp, led the line intelligently, holding the ball up effectively and was twice expertly denied by Lonergan after the break. For more news from Hillsborough click here
His hard-working showing prompted the away end to chant his name relentlessly in the final 20 minutes.
Carvalhal said: “Gary came into midfield and fought a lot for the team.
“Atdhe and Gary did fantastic work. They covered all of the situations. We tried to get the second goal and we had clear opportunities, especially the two Gary had.
“When the strikers help with the defending, it makes everything easier.
“Two weeks ago, a lot of people complained about Gary and Atdhe Nuhiu.
We gave time to Gary. He came in a very, very bad physical condition to us.
“Now he is better and we are happy with him.
“Gary took some time, like Fernando at the beginning, to get used to our game.
“He has quality so we are happy with him.”
Three wins in their last four outings keeps Wednesday in seventh position, with Ipswich Town occupying the final play-off place.
Now Carvalhal’s multi-cultural squad can look forward to three home matches on the spin.
The sobering news for Fulham is they have to face Wallace and company all over again in the FA Cup next Saturday.
Fulham: Lonergan 7; Richards 6, Stearman 6, Burn 6, Ream 5; Kacaniklic 7 (Woodrow 77), Mattila 7 (Garbutt 71), O’Hara 6 (Parker 63, 6), Hyndman 6; Dembele 6, McCormack 6. Substitutes: Lewis, Hutchinson, Smith, Vigen Christensen.
Wednesday: Wildsmith 7; Palmer 7, Loovens 8, Sasso 8, Pudil 7; Wallace 7 (Sougou 76), Lee 7, Bannan 8, Forestieri 7 (Helan 90); Hooper 8, Nuhiu 7 (Joao 88). Substitutes: Price, Wiggins, Semedo, Dielna.
Referee: Kevin Johnson (Somerset).
Attendance: 19,263 (3,297).