Stoke bossTony Pulis last time out snubbed Fulham gafferMark Hughes because Sparky refused to shake hands with Tony at Christmas. But after Hughes admitted publicly that he showed his frustration in the wrong way and wanted to bury the hatchet with Pulis, they both embraced in a friendly handshake before the game.
In good spirits, Tony made ten changes to the starting line up since the FA Cup Replay at Cardiff earlier in the week, making Marc Wilson the only player to keep his place. The much anticipated appearance of new loan signing John Carew had to wait as he was placed on the bench along with regulars Jermaine Pennant and Ricardo Fuller.
Five minutes after kick-off and already Stoke had a big opportunity to hit the back of the Fulham net early. The Potters were awarded a free-kick and Ryan Shawcross should have headed it in. The big defender rose above Dickson Etuhu to get a head on the ball which Mathew Etherington delivered in beautifully. But Shawcross only just missed as he effort flew inches wide of David Stockdale`s post. Stockdale had no chance of getting to that one and would have been a certain goal.
Literally two minutes later, Fulham had an opportunity to hit home early and were very unlucky not to do so. Damien Duff strutted his stuff as he struck an absolute superb cracker towards goal just outside of the area. It went up and dramatically dipped at the last but only to rattle the crossbar as Asmir Begovic was at full stretch. It ricocheted off the bar and Stoke scrambled it away from danger. Replays show it was actually Begovic, with a fantastic skin-of-the-finger save that prevented another certain goal of the game.
A great start to the match, especially for the Potters. It was certainly encouraging for Stoke fans, but from a neutral perspective it seemed to be a game that would produce some quality entertainment.
But the first 10 minutes of Stoke dominance began to fall to the other foot as Fulham picked up their momentum. Moussa Dembele found Danny Murphy just outside the area after picking up possession from Stockdale`s clearance. Murphy had a shot but blasted it wide of the post, much to the delight of Stoke fans who singled him out as a target for jibes. Who can blame them?
Rory Delap released Tuncay down the left hand side, and the Turkish International closed down on the Fulham goal. His shot from a slightly awkward angle however, was brilliantly saved by the legs of David Stockdale.
Danger for Stoke as Duff turned inside in the area to let rip once more, but again Asmir Begovic brilliantly saved as he was there to dive and push the ball away. Not all the sting was taken out of it though as the ball hit Shawcross just in-front of the far post, and out for a corner. Big claim for handball as the ball appeared to hit Shawcross`s arm, but in all honesty, Ryan would have had to be amputated for it not to hit his arm. Although, they have been given before and wasn`t given this time possibly because it wasn`t seen.
Danny Murphy lunges in for the second time at a Stoke player`s legs, this time it was Dean Whitehead who was brought down from behind. Referee Stuart Attwell booked Murphy for it. Just thought I`d build up the irony on Murphy`s suggestion that Stoke are dirty.
Not long after and it was the post that came to Fulham`s rescue. A free-kick that was hit into the area was cleared, but only to Kenwyne Jones on the far edge of the danger zone. He hit a almighty half-volley that looked sure to break the net, but instead curled slightly at the last second and hit the post. Disappointment for Jones was written all over his facial expressions.
Jones`s effort wakened Stoke up a bit as they were beginning to lose the momentum that they started with. The Potters began to push up a bit more after their possession percentage continued to fall previously.
But Stoke didn`t seem to be awake in the defence as a GOAL was scored for Fulham on the 33rd minute. Andy Johnson displayed some great skill when he picked up the ball and sprinted towards the line. He put in a dangerous low cross and a lunging Clint Dempsey powered the ball behind a scrambling Begovic.
Things could have got worse moments later as Danny Murphy cleverly picked out Duff from a quick free-kick. Begovic was there to deny another Fulham chance and keep Stoke in the game, as Duff fired an effort towards the Bosnian`s goal.
Half time and a very lively first half for both teams. Disappointing to go behind really, especially seen as Stoke had a couple of clear-cut chances themselves. But it with the end-to-end play only posed the question of who would score first.
Fulham came out in the second half determined to add to the tally as Dembele laid off Duff who managed to cut inside. He pulled the trigger but 3 Stoke players threw themselves in front of the shot. Last ditch defending for the Potters but they needed to sharpen up on the ball if they were to prevent Fulham from penetrating the defence.
Unfortunately Ryan Shawcross blatantly cut across Clint Dempsey in the penalty area after the American skilfully dinked the ball behind the defender to create shooting space. The referee pointed to the spot for a PENALTY and immediately showed Ryan the red card for being the last man.
Dempsey stepped up to the mark and blasted it sweetly in the centre, fooling Begovic who dived to his right. GOAL in the 56th minute for Fulham and Clint`s second of the game. Disaster for Stoke and Tony Pulis!
A major shuffle was needed so a double substitution for the Potters saw John Carew make his debut in place of Danny Collins, who of which had a disappointing performance. A disheartened Tuncay also came off for Abdoulaye Faye.
Carew had a great chance to score for Stoke as he broke into the Fulham area. Surrounded by defenders, he managed to hold the ball and turn to face goal, but it was nicked away from him at the last.
Another couple of substitutions; Dixon Etuhu went off with an apparent hamstring problem so on came debutant Steven Sidwell. A frustrated Mathew Etherington also came off for Glen Whelan, which was a slightly surprising substitution for Tony Pulis.
Despite the 3 fresh legs for Stoke, Fulham persisted to be a threat. They worked out a great free-kick to Sidwell who had plenty of time and plenty of space. He fired one at goal but it was deflected for a corner.
The Potters hoof it up-field and towards Kenwyne Jones. But Jones couldn`t bring it down the same way as Dempsey, and it bobbles on into the hands of Stockdale.
A minute later though Glen Whelan lofted a ball to Jones who headed it down to the feet of Carew. A big chance for John but Brett Hangeland nipped in to steal the ball away to ruin the perfect opportunity.
Fulham`s tactic for the rest of the half was to keep possession and faff about in order to keep Stoke at bay. And really it worked.
A couple of other chances before the end; Danny Murphy sent a volley just wide from the edge of the area. Meanwhile Jones rose to head Whelan’s cross just over at the other end.
Full time and Stoke lose 2-0 again at the hands of Fulham. Stoke did start so positively yet after 15 minutes or so, Fulham gained in confidence and took over. The first goal was one nail, but the penalty and Ryan`s sending off was the final nail in the Potter`s coffin. I`m sure that Mark Hughes was more than happy to shake hands with Tony Pulis on this occasion after his team seemed to outclass us.
Stockdale, Pantsil, Hangeland, Hughes (Halliche, 75), Baird, Duff, Murphy, Etuhu (Sidwell, 63), Demspey, Johnson, Dembele (Gera, 75).
Subs Not Used: Etheridge, Salcido, Kamara, Davies.
Begovic, Wilkinson, Huth, Shawcross, Collins (Carew, 58), Delap, Whitehead, Wilson, Etherington (Whelan, 63), Jones, Tuncay (Faye, 58).
Subs Not Used: Sorensen, Fuller, Pennant, Walters.