Speaking to number of people in the build-up to this game, I discovered that the general overview was pessimistic as a tough game was thought to be in store, and they weren`t far wrong either.
Fulham`s last visit to the Britannia Stadium ended in a disappointing 2-0 defeat for the Potters as Mark Hughes` Cottagers triumphed. If you ‘re memory is really good, you`ll be able to remember the little tiff that Tony Pulis and Mark Hughes had which led to the pair snubbing each other when it came to the traditional handshake at the end of the game. Playground games in all honesty. But this time it was Martin Jol to make the travel north with the mindset that he and his team would not be bullied. More playground games hey?
Jonathan Woodgate felt his calf yesterday in training, so Pulis didn`t want to take the risk with him today and called upon fellow freebie Mathew Upson to fill the central defensive spot. Robert Huth was left on the bench, but will apparently be a part of the set-up next Thursday in the Europa League.
Unfortunately, where I sit in the South Stand, the Family Area had been extended round to our side because of the lack of Londoners making the trip away, which meant I couldn`t morally unleash the full fire-blooded passion, razor sharp tongue, and bellowing voice box upon the likes of Danny Murphy without parents and children themselves looking round and staring. So I knew my end would be at least slightly quieter for the duration of the game, but it seemed that as the team ran into their positions, it was a subdued atmosphere that summed up the first half. This made me frustrated and angry, so I ended up unleashing the full fire-blooded passion, razor sharp tongue, and bellowing voice box anyway. Please children, DO NOT repeat anything you hear in front of your parents, old people or Joe Frost.
Stoke stuttered as the game got underway, but it seemed that luck was on our side hypocritical thug Danny Murphy delivered an in-swinging corner, but nothing came of it as the ball flew over everyone and out of danger. Murphy was to become a problem for Stoke later in the game, but not from a football perspective, more from the petulant pratt side of things.
Inside 15 minutes, the Cottagers were firing on all cylinders with their build-up play as they seemed to run rings round Stoke. Moussa Dembele played in Bobby Zamora in the area, but Marc Wilson slid in as if the pitch was covered in butter and made a vital interception to deny the England international a golden opportunity.
John Arne Riise also had an opportunity as he wrong-footed Matthew Etherington to unleash a daring long-range effort, but the ball had too much momentum and flew over the crossbar.
Stoke hadn`t really had a foot in the game up until the 22 minute when Jermaine Pennant`s low cross from the right found the feet of Peter Crouch. The lanky lad found himself in a great unmarked position from ten yards out, but he didn`t quite expect the ball to shoot past Aaron Hughes as he lifted up his leg to clear, so Crouch struck the ball off-balance and saw his effort bobble wide of the far post. It was a chance you`d have put your house on that a goal would have come from it, but now you`d be feeling rather foolish as you huddle up in your newly acquired cardboard box just left of the Biffa bin.
Glen Whelan won a free kick on the edge of the area which saw Wilson step up to take. He certainly has a powerful shot on him, but this effort was fired into the wall. As luck would have it, the ball ricocheted to Crouch, but he was left frustrated again as his effort was charged down and cleared.
A subdued atmosphere from fans so far, but all were tightly gritting their teeth as Chris Baird`s cross for the wide right was headed on by an awaiting Zamora. The bar went inches wide which led to a collective sigh of relief.
The right side partnership between Pennant and Andy Wilkinson proved to be one that yet again combined to become a threat. A little one-two between the pair saw Pennant cutting inside the Fulham defence and heading for the edge of the area. He played another one-two with Crouch whose return pass put Pennant through towards goal, and although he managed to lift the ball over Aussie goalie Mark Schwarzer, it went wide of the far post.
Half time and at this point the game didn`t deliver much quality in the attacking sense. Both teams had one or two chances, but it was Stoke that were lagging a bit when it came to keeping hold of possession. Pulis needed to have a word with the lads in the dressing room urgently because it seemed that a Fulham goal was on the horizon.
Kicking off the second half with hopefully a little more fire in the belly was Stoke, and it didn`t take long for the subtle changes in emphasis to be evident.
Rory Delap didn`t typically slash a 30-yard left-footed strike and managed to keep the trajectory as flat as his throws. He came close to a screamer as it just flashed over the bar which had fans on their feet. More to his comfort zone was on the sidelines winding up for a throw-in minutes later. He propelled a prolific throw into the area that had the Fulham defence scrambling, especially when the ball skimmed off one of the defender`s heads to force a block on the line.
This was better from Stoke, but the fans needed a little more to really get the songs belting out in the usual ear-piercing manner. It must have been a really tiring week at work for most, unless they`re still recovering from the almighty 12th man performance against Manchester United.
But Stoke were to encourage the fans more when another Delap throw was launched into the danger area. Schwarzer missed the punch and the ball rebounded off Etherington at the back post. The ball looped back across goal, where Crouch beat the keeper to the ball, but it was scrambled off the line.
Jonathan Walters later played in Delap on the edge of the area who cleverly switched the ball to his left foot, outsmarting and wrong-footing an anticipating defender, he let rip a shot towards the target but it rattled the post and deflected away.
Stoke were getting closer and closer and the fans were getting louder and louder. We started to believe that something was going to give for the Potters, but there was still at least 20 minutes to play.
A real teaser for fans and players came about when Pennant stepped up for the corner. He whipped in a rapidly curling cross which was met by the head of Mathew Upson at the far post. It surely was a certain goal, but there was Murphy to block on the line!
As if he wasn`t hated enough by Stokies! Then Murphy added to the vendetta against him when he got in the face of Upson after a challenge from the defender brought the Fulham skipper down. After an exchange of words and invasion of personal spaces, Danny was booked to the delight of the Stoke fans, but so was Upson for the original fan.
The Britannia Stadium, now incensed by Danny Murphy, was now starting to raise the sound barrier. All focus now was on the free kick on the half-way line; what could Stoke do here? It was played to Andy Wilkinson who put in an in-swinging cross which Crouch headed back to Etherington. He struck it low and Walters was there on the far post to tuck it home for the first GOAL!
The roof had finally lifted off in a game that hadn`t been that inspiring, but in the last quarter of the match, the quality began to filter through and Stoke were on top.
Moments later, another free-kick was awarded to Stoke when Baird clattered into Etherington and brought him down. Etherington was to take it himself from the far left of the penalty area, and with the pace he delivered the ball with, nothing could stop the ball when Delap got up in the air superbly to head it home for the second GOAL! Schwarzer could only stand and watch as his defence was exploited by a player not as likely to be a threat in front of goal as other more commanding attackers.
Now the tactic was to park the bus, and faff around in midfield when possession was won. Fulham couldn`t respond at all despite their efforts and Stoke were to see out the match that was a well fought one towards the end. A great three points from a game that didn`t get many on their feet that often, but we`d take an ugly win and a last place position on Match of the Day any day.
Stoke now sit seventh on the table, and hopefully the family area won`t be sitting in front of me for a good while at least (for the sake of impressionable ears).
Begovic, Wilkinson, Shawcross, Upson, Wilson, Pennant (Whitehead, 82), Delap, Whelan, Etherington (Diao, 91) Walters, Crouch.
Subs: Sorensen, Huth, Jones, Shotton, Jerome.
Schwarzer, Baird, Hughes, Hangeland, Riise, Dembele (Duff, 36), Murphy (Etuhu, 78), Sidwell, Dempsey, Johnson (Sa, 85), Zamora.
Subs: Etheridge, Kelly, Kasami, Briggs.