Stoke downed but not out
25th April 2009
Stoke's unbeaten four game run came to an end at Craven Cottage with a 29th minute strike from Fulham sub, Erik Nevland. But the result is by no means a disaster and the Potters remain in 12th place and still eight points outside the relegation zone.
Tony Pulis suffered a selection headache with Danny Higginbotham, James Beattie and Andy Wilkinson all out injured and made the decision to play Richard Cresswell up front with Danny Pugh and Stephen Kelly replacing the two defenders. It's easy for fans to criticise Cresswell's inclusion in the starting eleven Whilst he has always given 100% effort, Cresswell has never looked much of a goal machine and many would have preferred to see Henri Camara given a rare start. But TP is the man in charge and we can't really fault his overall tactics this season so sometimes you have to bow to his judgement and better understanding of his players' capabilities.
Stoke's loyal following, as usual, filled their allocation at the Cottage on the banks of the River Thames and provided some typically vocal support in the face of the reserved folk from Fulham and it was the Potters who came out of the traps the fastest allowing Rory Delap the first real shot on goal but he then had to watch his shot go high.
The Potters knew that they would need some solid defending against a team that have a good home record this season and still harbouring hopes of a European slot. But attack is the best form of defence and Delap again nearly gave the Potters the lead with another shot that ended up in the stands, whilst the home side were not able to conjure up many chances that worried Thomas Sorensen.
Fulham were forced into an early change when Zamora pulled up and had to be replaced by Nevland and it was Nevland that damaged Stoke's hopes just 9 minutes later when another Potters' attack was broken up and Fulham surged up field. City found themselves at sixes and sevens in defence and Johnson cross was picked up by an unmarked Nevland who fired the ball past Sorensen from just over six yards out. Stoke reacted immediately and Liam Lawrence could have quickly equalised had his shot not just gone narrowly wide.
The second half saw Stoke pick up the pace again but play had to be held up after Danny Pugh suffered a nasty injury after Nevland came into contact with his face. He battled on and was only replaced by Carl Dickinson in the dying minutes of the game. The second half was really all about Stoke as Fulham were denied any real chances on goal. Camara finally came on for Cresswell but too late to do much other than set up a cross for Ryan Shawcross to head over.
In an ideal world, a point each would have been a fair result, but in the end the Potters had to settle the consolation that just a two more points from their remaining four games should be more than enough to ensure that the likes of Man United and Arsenal etc. have to make return trips to the Brit next season.
Fulham: Schwarzer, Pantsil, Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky (Baird 82), Dempsey, Murphy, Etuhu, Gera, Zamora (Nevland 20), Johnson (Kamara 34).
Subs not used: Zuberbuhler, Dacourt, Gray, Stoor
Stoke City: Sorensen, Kelly (Sonko 83), Shawcross, Abdoulaye Faye, Pugh (Dickinson 87), Lawrence, Whelan, Delap, Etherington, Fuller, Cresswell (Camara 83).
Subs not used: Simonsen, Olofinjana, Cort, Tonge