Wolves moved a step closer to a seventh-placed Premier League finish and potentially European football next season as Leander Dendoncker’s volley gave the hosts victory over Fulham at Molineux.
After a largely frustrating 75 minutes, Joao Moutinho played in Matt Doherty down the right for the defender to curl in a fine cross that Dendoncker emphatically smashed inside the near post.
Superb Wolves forward Diogo Jota went close four times, twice sliding wide and twice drawing fine saves from Fulham keeper Sergio Rico, while Dendoncker also hit the bar with a header.
The already-relegated visitors should have taken the lead on 62 minutes but Aleksandar Mitrovic scooped his first-time effort over the bar after he was picked out in the middle by Ryan Sessegnon.
Wolves will be guaranteed of finishing seventh in their first season after promotion if Leicester fail to beat Premier League leaders Manchester City on Monday.
If Nuno Espirito Santo’s side do secure seventh and City subsequently beat Watford in the FA Cup final, then Wolves will land a Europa League spot next season, returning to Europe after a 39-year wait.
Fulham midfielder Harvey Elliott became the youngest ever Premier League player at 16 years and 30 days by coming on in the 88th minute.
Dendoncker ensures rousing end to home finale
Wolves have oddly had problems against struggling sides this season, having lost six of their 11 previous matches against teams in the bottom six heading into that round of fixtures.
For long periods of this game, it looked like a compact but limited Fulham would add a goalless draw to that record but Wolves were determined not to let their last home game be a disappointment after a season of thrilling matches at Molinuex.
Jota weaved his way past Fulham defenders all afternoon, picking up a yellow card for simulation early on, but more often drawing fouls and getting his team surging forward on the counter-attack.
In the first half, a brilliant flick from Raul Jimenez led to Jota forcing Rico to palm it round corner, before he got past his man and slid wide across goal with his left foot.
He similarly slipped a left-footed effort beyond the far post after the break and then saw a brilliant volley pushed onto the bar by Rico as the Portuguese ultimately failed to get the goal his performance deserved.
Doherty then lashed a superb strike high into the net but was rightly called offside when Jonny’s initial shot was deflected into his path.
But Dendoncker finally broke through. Having seen his header from a corner rebound off the bar in the first half, the Belgium midfielder showed excellent technique to volley the ball from just behind his body and edge Wolves towards the highest finish for a promoted side since Ipswich came fifth in 2000-01.
Fulham look to the future
Defeat ended a run of three successive victories for Fulham after their relegation was confirmed last month but there were again some promising signs from interim boss Scott Parker’s side.
They were comfortable in possession, albeit rarely incisive around Wolves’ area, their defenders made some fine covering tackles and Rico impressed in goal, also denying Doherty’s header at the near post and pushing away Ruben Neves’ 25-yard drive.
The visitors could even have had a club record fourth Premier League win in a row had Mitrovic not miscued his strike when free in the area after fine work from Sessegnon down the right, while Joe Bryan also drew a decent save from Rui Patricio.
Ultimately this match just reinforced the gap between these two promoted sides, with Wolves plotting how they might even break into the top six and Fulham facing another tough task to return straight away from the Championship.
And the Cottagers offered a brief nod to that future, bringing on Elliott, who beat the previous Premier League mark of former Fulham defender Matthew Briggs.
Briggs was 16 years and 68 days when he played against Middlesbrough in May 2007.
Man of the match – Diogo Jota (Wolves)
‘An important win’ – reaction
Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo, speaking to BBC Sport: “This is an important win, it was important to the atmosphere at Molineux. Everyone expected us to win but it was difficult because we faced a tough team.
“But I’m really pleased with the way we finished the season at home, the fans have been fantastic this season.
“We had to be focused, organised and disciplined because Fulham had chances also, it was a tight game.”
Fulham caretaker manager Scott Parker, speaking to BBC Sport: “We are a bit disappointed. We knew the task ahead of us. We had a game plan that we worked hard on this week. We wanted to take the sting out of Wolves.
“It’s a tough place to come here but I felt we dominated the ball today and for us that’s the best way to defend. We have conceded one goal in four now and that’s down to the players.
“Our main aim now is next year and the task ahead, it’s a big task and we know what we want to do.”
Fulham’s troubles on the road – stats
- Wolves have won 57 points in the Premier League this season, the most by a newly promoted side since Ipswich Town in 2000-01 (66 points).
- Fulham have lost 25 Premier League games this season, the most by a newly promoted side since Derby County in 2007-08 (29 defeats).
- No player has more assists for Wolves in all competitions this season than Matt Doherty (eight).
- This was Fulham’s 16th away Premier League defeat of the season – only Burnley in 2009-10 have lost more in a single season (17).
- Wolves named their 14th unchanged Premier League starting XI this season – no side has done so more often (also Burnley on 14).
Wolves are away at Liverpool on the final day of the season on Sunday, 12 May, while Fulham host Newcastle, with both matches at 15:00 BST.
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