Pete O'Rourke looks back at Fulham's victory over Stoke at Craven Cottage
Last Updated: 23/02/13 8:37pm
Fulham eased any fears of being dragged into a relegation dogfight, but Stoke's away day woes show no sign of ending.
Martin Jol will be thankful for the contribution of two of his most experienced performers for the win over Stoke with Dimitar Berbatov and Mark Schwarzer playing key roles in the victory.
However, for Stoke they slipped to their third straight defeat on their travels to leave them with just one success away from the Britannia Stadium this season.
Jol made three changes to his side for the visit of Stoke with full-back Sascha Riether recalled following an illness whilst Ashkan Dejagah and Giorgos Karagounis also came back into the side as Hugo Rodallega dropped to the bench.
Stoke welcomed Marc Wilson back from long-term injury after breaking his leg against Sunderland in October with Potters boss Tony Pulis also naming Geoff Cameron in his starting XI as Andy Wilkinson and Michael Kightly made way. January signing Brek Shea was named amongst the substitutes
Jol began with a 4-4-2 formation with Ruiz playing in a slightly deeper role behind Berbatov and both players linked well in attack. Full-backs Riether and John Arne Riise were given licence to get forward and they did that to great effect.
Tony Pulis stuck with his tried and trusted 4-4-2 formation with Jon Walters and Peter Crouch leading the attack and Glenn Whelan and Steven Nzonzi anchoring the midfield.
Jol left all three of his changes late on with Chris Baird coming on for Karagounis nine minutes from time to provide more defensive cover in midfield. Urby Emanuelson replaced Damien Duff four minutes, while Berbatov was afforded a standing ovation when he was taken off for Mladen Petric in the final minute.
Stoke were forced into an early change when Matthew Etherington limped off with an apparent back injury after just 24 minutes with Shea coming on for his debut. Cameron Jerome came on for Cameron early in the second half as Pulis looked to get back into the game and Kenwyne Jones was thrown on 20 minutes from time for Crouch.
Lee Probert had a tough day at the office after missing two controversial incidents which could have warranted red cards. The official only booked Steven Nzonzi for a slap on Bryan Ruiz in the first half, while he missed the incident where Robert Huth appeared to aim an elbow at Philippe Senderos at a corner. Probert did get the penalty decision right when Dejagah handled Shea's cross inside the box. In all Probert booked four players in what was a bit of a fractious game at times but it could have been two red cards for the Nzonzi and Huth clashes.
Berbatov's goal was the outstanding individual moment in the game and was worthy of winning any match. The Bulgarian produced superb technique to crash a superb volley past Asmir Begovic and was Fulham's most dangerous player throughout
Schwarzer also deserves credit for ensuring Fulham took all three points with the penalty save from Walters and a smart stop from Crouch early in the second period.
Stoke will be happy to see Wilson back in action as he came through the game unscathed after a lengthy lay-off. The versatile defender impressed and helped fill the problematic left-back spot in the Stoke rearguard.
Walters missed Stoke's best chance of scoring when he saw his penalty saved by Schwarzer, but he looked his side's main attacking threat where they struggled to create too many clear goalscoring chances.
Fulham can look forward to their next few games after opening up a gap between themselves and those sides below them in the bottom half of the table. The Cottagers have now kept two clean sheets in their last two Premier League games, having conceded in each of their previous 11 top-flight fixtures to ease any fears of being dragged into the relegation dogfight. Fulham travel to Sunderland next time out before difficult London derbies against Chelsea and Tottenham, and Jol will be hoping to pick up something from their trip to Wearside ahead of those two big capital clashes.
For Stoke their miserable form away from home continues and they have now won just once away from the Britannia Stadium this term. Worryingly for Stoke fans the team often look a shadow of the one seen at the Britannia when they go on their travels. Next up is a home clash with West Ham and Pulis will be keen to get his side back to winning ways otherwise they could lose their place in the top half of the table.
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