What a difference two days make!
Tony Pulis`s snub of Mark Hughes handshake at full time was the most interesting thing that happened yesterday afternoon, because if you`re a Stoke fan then the football made for horrendous viewing. Pulis`s snub was the only time a Stoke member gained the upper hand, quite literally, over our London opponents. On the pitch Stoke were well short of their best as they slipped to 2-0 defeat to a side that hadn`t won an away game in 16 months. Chris Baird did the damage with two very early strikes, one of them an absolute belter.
Beforehand their was the positive news that Matthew Etherington was fit to start as he overcame his knee injury, as Pulis named an unchanged side from the one that so impressively beat Blackburn on Boxing Day. That meant that Jonathan Walters controversially kept his place, while Ricardo Fuller, Tuncay and Eidur Gudjohnsen sat staring enviously from the bench.
With Fulham`s dreadful away form, Stoke`s dominant home record and the fact that the Cottages sat in 18th place with Stoke 8th at kick off, even the most pessimistic of Potters fans would have backed them to win today and win well. But with just four minutes on the clock Hughes`s side flew out the blocks and took advantage of an over confident Stoke. Simon Davies crossed from the left and Collins cleared out towards Walters. The Irishman was caught napping and Baird charged in to a hit a first time half volley that neither Begovic`s hand or the inside of the post could stop from ending up in the net.
OK 1-0 down, but against a side battling relegation and with just four minutes gone and the fact it was one hell of a goal, there were no needs for major concern.
But 5 minutes later there was as Baird put Fulham 2-0 to the good. Pennant mis-timed his sliding tackle on the edge of the box, but just as it looked we got away with it Kevin Friend, our ref, blew for a free-kick. Begovic took up a poor position in goal and the wall was all over the place as Baird`s low drive went straight into the unguarded corner.
The home side were shell shocked by a lightening Fulham start and it took a while to recover. The visitors passing and possession was very impressive but both Whitehead and Delap allowed them far too much room to go about their business. It was a clash of the styles and Fulham`s was winning hands down.
Stoke didn`t create one meaningful opportunity in the opening 45 and had to make do with half chances. Kenwyne Jones volleyed wide from the edge of the box after superbly controlling the ball, while Etherington almost found Walters 6 yards out for a tap in but some fine defending saw the ball leave him at the crucial moment. The closest we came was when Etherington`s corner found Shawcross`s head and with the keeper nowhere it looked a certain goal, but our friend Danny Murphy was there to clear it off the line.
Pulis introduced Fuller early in the second half in place of the industrial Walters, who did work hard but at this stage we needed flair and creativity. We also needed a little help from a friend, but in this case Kevin, our unreliable referee, turned down two handball penalty appeals. Firstly Jones`s header struck Johnson`s arm which was more accidental then deliberate, but they have definitely been given. Then Hangeland, who was supreme at the back, flung himself in front of an Etherington shot with the ball hitting his arm again. However according to the ref it hit his chest and Stoke were left rueing their mis-fortune once more.
Not without effort the Potters just couldn`t break through and even a Tuncay cameo wasn`t going to work. The closest we came was when Fuller twisted and turned on the by-line before setting up Huth, who`s first time shot was parried by the keeper just an inch to the right of the incoming Tuncay. Fulham held on for a great win for them but boos rang out for the second consecutive home defeat.
Only a couple of players impressed, one being Ryan Shawcross who defended well yet again and the other being Jermaine Pennant who it now seems it edging closer to becoming a permanent signing.
After the game Pulis said there may be one or two coming in during January, and after that performance I sincerely hope so. Next up is New Year clash with Everton at the Brit this coming Saturday before a trip to Old Trafford.