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Fulham struggle at Stoke

last updated Wednesday 06th January 2010, 11:13 AM
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Ian Edwards at The Times

Stoke City 3 Fulham 2
Stoke hold on to beat Fulham and end losing run in Premier League

Tony Pulis would happily have sat inside a freezer and been chilled to the bone for three points after Stoke City's miserable run of recent results.

The Britannia Stadium was the largest of white goods last night thanks to the arctic conditions - but it proved to be a winter wonderland for the Stoke manager as he finally discovered a solution to his lack of goals.

Such have been the difficulties Stoke have endured when it comes to defeating opposition goalkeepers, that even the name of Ruud van Nistelrooy has been circulating around the Potteries as a potential cure. The Dutchman may well be leaving Real Madrid in the transfer window, but it is unlikely he will be pitching up in Emma Bridgewater territory.

The need does not appear quite so great after Stoke scored three goals in a Barclays Premier League match for only the second time to secure their second league win in two months - albeit in nervous circumstances after Fulham's first-half snowmen thawed sufficiently to make a contest of it and claim two goals of their own.

The result fully justified the decision to spend heavily on keeping the stadium's undersoil heating on for two weeks before this, a bill that will be met partly by the £160,000 from Sky's late offer to show the match live, but it was a far more costly evening for Roy Hodgson, the Fulham manager.

Fulham lost Brede Hangeland with a recurrence of a knee injury and Bobby Zamora with either a collar bone or shoulder injury. "We are waiting for the prognosis," Hodgson said. "Whatever it is it certainly won't be a short-term injury." Add that John Paintsil will be missing for the rest of the season after a cruciate knee ligament injury and early-season optimism is waning at Craven Cottage.

Hodgson had no complaints about the fixture going ahead in the wintry conditions and absolved the pitch of any blame in the injury to Zamora. "He fell at high speed and the surface would not have made any difference to that," Hodgson said.

They did at least avoid capitulating in the second half and might have found greater reward than Damien Duff's deflected shot and Clint Dempsey's wonderful 20-yard strike. The American had at least two other opportunities after replacing Zamora and Fulham were denied a late penalty when referee Mark Clattenburg failed to spot a handball by Ryan Shawcross in stoppage time.

It was an ultimately futile response, though, because of the difficult task that Fulham, without an away win since the opening day of the season, set themselves when the snow was at its fiercest in the first half. Three goals in a 25-minute spell was hardly the stuff of a cure for their travel bug.

Matthew Etherington has been one consistent performer for Stoke in troubled times of late and there was no hiding his impact here. The winger played a part in all three goals and a relieved Pulis said: "It's ironic, really, but we could have had more goals than we managed in the first half. We have been creating chances, but just not taking them."

That was not the case here, and from the moment Tuncay Sanli headed his second goal for the club from close range, the shackles came off Stoke's trussed-up strikers. Mamady Sidibe added the third, from another Etherington cross, with a beautifully struck shot from inside the area.

Sandwiched in between was a rare goal from Abdoulaye Faye, another set-piece disaster for Fulham as Hangeland's knee injury clearly prevented him from being in any condition to offer anything other than flimsy resistance in trying to protect the dejected Mark Schwarzer. Although Stoke were similarly flimsy in the second half, they managed to creep to victory.

Stoke City (4-4-2): S Simonsen - R Huth, Abdoulaye Faye, R Shawcross, D Higginbotham - L Lawrence (sub: S Diao, 89min), R Delap (sub: G Whelan, 66), D Whitehead, M Etherington - Tuncay Sanli (sub: R Fuller, 42), M Sidibe.
Substitutes not used: D St Louis-Hamilton, J Beattie, D Collins, A Wilkinson.

Booked: Faye.

Fulham (5-3-2): M Schwarzer - S Kelly, C Baird, B Hangeland (sub: C Smalling, 46), A Hughes, P Konchesky - Z Gera, D Murphy, D Duff - A Johnson (sub: E Nevland, 82), R Zamora (sub: C Dempsey, 54).
Substitutes not used: P Zuberbühler, J Greening, T Kallio, K Dikgacoi.

Referee: M Clattenburg.
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