Stoke 3 Fulham 2
Fulham never recovered from a three goal first half onslaught from Stoke City but can take heart from a spirited second half display that nearly saw the points shared.
Any fears that the ice-age gripping England would result in a postponement of this fixture were misplaced as the Britannia Stadium kept up it`s record of only ever having one fixture postponed, and that down to high winds.
For the fixture, Roy Hodgson knew he would be without the injured John Pantsil, Diomansy Kamara and Simon Davies but he was able to welcome back Brede Hangeland after the Norwegian missed the last two fixtures due t a knock picked up on Boxing Day.
After having conquered Swindon Town, by a solitary goal, on Saturday, the side had a more solid look to it with Danny Murphy, Chris Baird, Zoltan Gera and Damien Duff all returning. Also making a much-welcomed first Premier League start after injury was Andy Johnson. Probably unlucky to be named on the bench after some fine performances lately were Chris Smalling and Clint Dempsey.
After a fairly equal opening ten minutes it was the home side that took the lead after twelve minutes when their signing from Middlesbrough, Tuncay Sanli, headed home a Matthew Etherington cross that had been helped on by Robert Huth. Fulham responded well, Zamora had a shot blocked and Gera headed wide from a Duff corner.
With thirty three minutes gone though matters took another turn for the worse when Stoke doubled their lead, when Etherington created another chance, this time it was Abdoulaye Faye who netted from close range. Three minutes later, prayers were uttered for the game to be abandoned when Stoke went 3-0 up through Mamaday Sidibe.
Fulham were under the cosh and as half time approached Baird had to hastily clear away a corner from Liam Lawrence. Another corner resulted in a Ricardo Fuller (on for Tuncay Sanli) shot being cleared by Konchesky. Half time, 3-0 down and a miracle required! The half also ended miserably for Fulham with Hangeland limping off to be replaced by Smalling.
The second half got under way and Zamora fired wide of the target as Fulham tried to get back into the game. It was to be Zamora`s last meaningful participation as he was replaced by Dempsey. Duff fired over from outside the box and as the hour mark approached Murphy fired wide with another effort. Just after the hour mark the arrears were reduced when Duff netted firing home from outside the box after an assist from Dempsey.
Dempsey, thriving since coming off the bench, forced Simonsen into a save with a shot. Dempsey then fired wide, from outside the area, as Fulham desperately sought to get back into the match. Stoke though were still dangerous going forward and Schwarzer had to block a shot from Fuller. With only tem minutes left it was beginning to look as if the points were staying with the home side.
A last throw of the dice saw Nevland introduced in place of Johnson. With five minutes left of normal time, Dempsey got his reward for the industry he had shown since coming on when he further reduced the arrears from outside the area. Could Fulham pull off the improbable?
Trying to rescue at least a point, Nevland saw a shot blocked by Whelan. Dempsey saw a long range effort saved and Duff saw an effort blocked by Higginbotham. As the game entered stoppage time, Schwarzer saved a long range shot from Fuller and Stoke had all hands to the pumps as a Smalling shot was cleared and that equaliser was not to come.