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Fulham 1-0 Stoke Prem27 1213 The Guardian

last updated Tuesday 26th February 2013, 11:07 PM

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The Observer

Fulham (1) 1 Stoke (0) 0

A sumptuous volley from Dimitar Berbatov and a second-half penalty save by Mark Schwarzer earned the points for Fulham, leaving Martin Jol praising both players.

Berbatov struck his ninth goal of the season just before half-time after the hosts had dominated without really testing the Stoke goalkeeper, Asmir Begovic. Schwarzer then saved a spot-kick by Jonathan Walters, 10 minutes into the second half, and also moved quickly to deny the visitors when Peter Crouch muscled his way past Philippe Senderos. With the ball heading towards the goal, Schwarzer just managed to get there in time.

Jol said: "It was an unbelievable save, and then the penalty kick. To save that was vital for us. He wins points for us. When you have people like Mark Schwarzer, you get results."

The manager also had words for his striker. "Dimitar certainly made a difference. He always scores between 15-25 goals and it would be silly to think he won't score 15-20 goals for us - and that is what I always had in mind."

Tony Pulis agreed that Berbatov and Schwarzer were the game-changers, and the Stoke manager added: "The penalty miss was the decisive moment. It was a great goal by Berbatov - real quality, and for us, a bad time to concede."

Stoke were the first side to test the opposition keeper as Crouch dropped deep before threading a ball into the run of Walters, who forced Schwarzer into a smart low save. The hosts then took control of the remainder of the first half, with Berbatov firing over the crossbar from six yards out after being picked out by the returning Sascha Riether.

John Arne Riise forced a decent save out of Begovic as he powered in from the left before rifling in a low shot.

Stoke were lucky to not be reduced to 10 men midway through the first half as Steven Nzonzi, who had taken a knock on the nose in an earlier collision with Berbatov, was booked for shoving Bryan Ruiz in the face. Giorgos Karagounis struck the resulting free-kick well and Begovic was forced to tip over.

Fulham remained on top and forced a number of corners which resulted in little. Jol's side almost grabbed the goal their opening 45 minutes of play deserved but Steve Sidwell's long-range effort flew just wide of Begovic's right post.

The goal finally came in first-half stoppage time as Ashkan Dejagah and Riether combined down the left with Riether's cross was headed into the path of Berbatov by Robert Huth and the former Manchester United man lashed in a volley of the highest quality.

Stoke's penalty came 10 minutes into the second half. The referee, Lee Probert, awarded a penalty as Dejagah blocked the debutant Brek Shea's cross with his arm but Walters hit a tame spot-kick that was easily kept out by Schwarzer.

Berbatov almost doubled his tally with another fantastic effort. The Bulgarian flicked the ball away from two defenders before firing in another volley with Begovic able to parry it away.

Shea, a first-half introduction for the injured Matthew Etherington, then came close with a half-volley as Stoke started to fight their way back into the match. Fulham responded well to Stoke's attempts to fashion an equaliser and started to play some football of their own once again.

Karagounis worked a short corner routine with Dejagah before the former Panathinaikos midfielder arrowed a shot just over the crossbar.

Ruiz then wriggled his way into the area before his cross found its way to Sidwell, whose shot was deflected around the post for Fulham's ninth corner of the game. Nothing came of the set piece but Fulham survived to claim the points

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