Stoke cling on for massive win
Stoke held off a Fulham fight back to record only their second Premier League victory since October with a 3-2 win over the visitors. On a snowy night Stoke ran riot in the first half going in at the break 3-0 to the good thanks to goals from Tuncay, Abdoulaye Faye and Mama Sidibe. Fulham however came back and scored through Damien Duff and a stunner from Clint Dempsey.
Boss Tony Pulis made five changes from the side that beat York. Thomas Sorensen suffered a recurrence of a finger injury in the warm up so Steve Simonsen got the nod in goal. Ryan Shawcross and Abdoulaye Faye both returned to the heart of the defence in place of Leon Cort and Danny Collins, and upfront Tuncay was recalled and partnered Mama Sidibe.
In the Fulham team Stephen Kelly made his first return to the Britannia since rejecting them, last summer. The Irishman spent the second half of last season on loan at the Potters before opting to join Fulham instead.
The home side were the quickest out of the traps and had a goal disallowed after two minutes. Tuncay made a clever run between midfield and defence and played a superb defence splitting ball through to Sidibe. The Mali international then released Matthew Etherington who fired past the keeper only to be called up for offside.
Fulham then went up the other end and almost took the lead themselves. After the in-form Bobby Zamora drew a foul from Abdoulaye Faye, Danny Murphy cleverly disguised his shot and placed it under the jumping wall leaving Simonsen helpless, fortunately for Stoke the ball whistled past the post but that was enough to show Stoke that they were up against tough opposition.
However the Potters dominance paid off in the 13th minute when they broke the deadlock. The tireless Tuncay heaped pressure on the Fulham defence and dispossessed Aaron Hughes before heading towards goal, only for Brede Hangeland to come across and put the ball behind for a corner. Etherington went across and swung in a perfect ball for Robert Huth to attack. The German`s header was going wide but Tuncay was there to turn the ball in from 2 yards.
The freezing cold crowd finally woke up and they spurred on the Potters who started to take control over a tired looking Fulham.
Mama Sidibe almost scored a brilliant goal after taking Etherington`s ball on the chest he swivelled and shot but it flew straight at Mark Schwarzer.
In central midfield Rory Delap was enjoying one of his best performances of the season as he and Dean Whitehead struck up a formidable partnership in the middle. Simonsen though was looking rusty in the goal after he dropped a couple of high balls in the snow and his kicks were inaccurate.
However the Potters fans went wild when they doubled their lead. Liam Lawrence drew an off-the-ball foul from Paul Konchesky and won a free-kick in a dangerous position just right of the six yard box. Again Etherington`s ball was perfect for Abdoulaye Faye who steamed in at the back post to tap home after some woeful Fulham defending.
Down the left hand side Stoke`s trio Tuncay, Etherington and Danny Higginbotham were over running Stephen Kelly who was quickly starting to look out of his depth against such in-form opponents.
A combination of the three set up Mama Sidibe to score a brilliant goal to cap off a wonderful first half. After Tuncay picked up the ball inside his own half after Fulham pushed men forward, he broke with brilliant speed. After a simple ball out to Etherington who returned it down the line, Higginbotham emerged from nowhere to and sped into the box. Tuncay layed it back to Etherington who`s cross for Higginbotham was spot on and he flicked a header on to Sidibe who crashed a half-volley into the corner. That was his first goal since his return from injury.
However things turned slightly for the worse after Tuncay was forced off with a Hamstring injury and was replaced by Ricardo Fuller, fresh from his man-of-the match performance against York.
The Jamaican wasted no time in stamping his authority on the game as he could have had two goals in two minutes just before half-time. The first was typical Fuller, he plucked a high ball brilliantly out of the sky on the left hand side and although he had nothing on he sped past Kelly and was in on goal. However a combination of Hangeland and Schwarzer thwarted him a second goal in four days.
From the resulting Lawrence corner, Fuller headed the ball over from a good position.
Fulham were clearly hanging on for half-time as Fuller headed an Etherington corner against the post and Huth saw his rebound blocked on the line. A magnificent half from the Potters allowed a lot of pre-match tension to be lifted.
Fulham came out fighting though and took the game to the Potters who sat back protecting their three goal cushion. Zoltan Gera went close and Damien Duff forced Simo into a good save.
Duff got his own back soon after as his crisply hit shot flew past Simo with the help of a massive deflection of an out-stretched Shawcross. That caused the Potters to panic slightly and Pulis threw on Whelan to calm things down.
Fuller then almost put the game safe as he again turned the defence inside out before striking a powerful effort that forced Schwarzer put it round the post.
Sidibe upfront was enjoying his best game for over a year as his inclusion in the team made a big difference to the balance of the team and in the second half he was dominant in the air.
Fulham though perhaps scored a goal that outdid Sidibe`s with just 9 minutes to go. Faye failed to clear a header and the ball dropped for Clint Dempsey 30 yards out and he volleyed a magnificent shot over the head of Simonsen and into the back of the net.
That moment of magic saw that the game finish in a nervy manor as Fulham pressed for an equaliser. Shawcross almost gave it to them but his handball in the area wasn`t spotted and the Potters held on for a vital win.
Stoke now climb to 10th on 24 points and 6 points clear of relegation. Next up is a trip to a Managerless Burnley with a chance of 3 points before a home game with Liverpool.