Fulham enjoyed a first win at West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League to lift Martin Jol's men away from the relegation zone following a run of just one victory in 12 matches. Dimitar Berbatov was the class act at The Hawthorns and his goal was the only highlight of a desperate first half. West Brom were much improved after half-time, with Romelu Lukaku their danger man, but failed to score a second goal when on top and were then unable to respond after Alex Kacaniklic's goal.
West Brom made five changes from the team which lost 2-0 at Manchester United last Saturday. The on-loan Lukaku started up front, while Youssouf Mulumbu, Zoltan Gera, James Morrison and Marc-Antoine Fortune came into the midfield. It meant Shane Long and Peter Odemwingie dropped to the bench, along with Markus Rosenberg and George Thorne.
Despite a run of just one win in 12 games, Fulham boss Martin Jol made just one change from the team which lost 2-1 at home to Swansea City on Saturday. Kacaniklic came into the team on the left of midfield at the expense of Kerim Frei, who dropped to the bench. There was also a place among the substitutes for Pajtim Kasami, who had not featured for Fulham since the 3-0 home win over West Brom in mid-September.
Steve Clarke kept the same back five which had lost at Old Trafford, with the midfield and attack the area for changes. Lukaku was deployed as a lone striker and his physical presence was a constant threat for West Brom as Fortune provided much of the width, and Gera and Morrison offered support from midfield.
Fulham went with a 4-4-1-1 formation at The Hawthorns, with Berbatov the focal point of the attack and was offered support by Ruiz. Ashkan Dejagah was always an outlet on the right wing and match-winner Kacaniklic provided some clever runs in-field from his position on the left flank.
Clarke was the first manager to blink in the second half as the West Brom boss threw on Odemwingie and Long for Fortune and Gera with 25 minutes to go. Long curled in a cross which Lukaku headed wide, but neither substitute had the influence which Clarke would have hoped for. George Thorne was a late introduction for Chris Brunt.
Jol waited until 14 minutes from time to make his first change as striker Hugo Rodallega replaced the tiring midfielder Giorgos Karagounis. Rodallega's movement was a useful outlet on the counter, while Philippe Senderos came on for the last few seconds for Berbatov.
Mike Dean handled the game sensibly, although the match was never in any danger of getting out of control. Dean upset Fulham in the first half when he failed to award a free-kick after Karagounis had been bundled over by Mulumbu 25 yards from goal. With 10 minutes to go, Dean also declined to give Fulham a penalty when Ruiz appeared to be caught by Mulumbu, but the official may have been swayed by the Costa Rican's delayed fall to the floor.
Lukaku was the main threat for West Brom throughout the game and he weighed in with his seventh Premier League goal since arriving on loan from Chelsea. The Belgium international is clearly benefiting from playing regularly and his presence constantly unsettled Brede Hangeland at the back for Fulham. He was left unmarked to score West Brom's equaliser, and then hit the post and saw a shot smartly saved by David Stockdale during a storming start to the second half. He certainly looks capable of making an impact at Chelsea when he returns to Stamford Bridge.
Berbatov was the class operator on the pitch by some distance and his goal was characteristic of the summer signing from Manchester United. The Bulgarian played an excellent ball into space on the right for Dejagah before ambling into the box at his own pace to sweep home the return pass. He always looked to have time on the ball and, though concern has been expressed about Fulham relying too much on Berbatov, with him in their team, they always have a chance of winning games.
West Brom were harshly booed off at half-time and full-time, and it is perhaps a sign of how well Clarke has done since taking charge that expectations are now seemingly so high. The FA Cup third round on Saturday offers a chance for West Brom to move forward as opponents QPR will surely be focused on their Premier League survival battle. The trip to Loftus Road is followed by games against Reading and Aston Villa, which give the Baggies a chance to remain in the thick of the push for European football.
Fulham face Blackpool at home in the FA Cup on Saturday and Jol must surely target the competition as an opportunity for the club to make progress. With Premier League home games against Wigan and West Ham to come later this month, there is a good chance for the Cottagers to put further distance between themselves and the relegation zone.