Roy Hodgson fielded a strong starting eleven for the final home match of the season, with Bobby Zamora the only name of note missing from the team sheet.
The encounter got off to a surprisingly open start with both Ricardo Fuller and Mamady Sidibe allowing the Fulham back line plenty of time and space on the ball. The early indications all pointed to Stoke aiming to grind out a tight result.
Tony Pulis’ men seemed to be having some initial trouble in adapting to Fulham’s attacking shape as the Whites were often able to find space in wide areas and through midfield.
Although Asmir Begovic had not been troubled in the first 15 minutes, Fulham were by far looking the most likely to create an opening. And Damien Duff almost broke the deadlock on 17 minutes when he was able to get to Simon Davies’ corner delivery only to fire wide of goal. The Irish international was heavily involved in another good Fulham opportunity just moments later when his cross from the left wing found Zoltan Gera in a good position in the penalty area – but unfortunately the Hungarian attacker clipped his shot over the bar.
With chances few and far between to punctuate the midfield war of attrition, Fulham were being made to work hard for a sight of goal. A delightful piece of passing interplay between Gera and Clint Dempsey on 31 minutes saw the American almost direct Gera’s well-weighted through ball on target.
An intricate passing move between Etuhu Dempsey and Gera on the edge of the Stoke penalty area on 38 minutes resulted in Gera firing a firm, low drive on goal which was competently dealt with by Begovic.
Fulham ended the first-half with a flurry of attacking play with both Danny Murphy and Zoltan Gera finding their passing range. Murphy was at his influential best, whilst Gera was seeing more and more of the ball.
Erik Nevland replaced Damien Duff at half-time in his final appearance at Craven Cottage before rejoining his first club Viking Stavanger in the summer. Nevland joined Dempsey up front in a switch that saw Zoltan Gera move out to the right flank.
Stoke opted for a more direct approach in the opening exchanges of the second-half but Fulham were soon able to get to grips with the game and started imposing their will on Tony Pulis’ side.
Matthew Etherington caused a flutter in the Fulham defence on 56 minutes when he raced to the by-line and hit a low cross across the face of the Fulham six yard box – fortunately his pass flew straight through. Etherington instigated another moment of danger soon after when his awkward ball to the far post was misjudged by Schwarzer, resulting in a corner for the Potters.
Schwarzer was certainly being made to work harder in the second-half as Stoke’s passing in the final third was looking more purposeful.
A point-blank save from Begovic on 68 minutes denied Clint Dempsey after the Fulham attacker was wonderfully picked out at the far post by a chipped pass from Zoltan Gera. The former Portsmouth keeper was quickly down at the feet of Dempsey to smother the volley.
Dickson Etuhu then brought about a routine save from the Bosnian international on 72 minutes when he headed a Danny Murphy corner on target.
As the game entered its closing stages Fulham visibly upped the tempo, forcing Stoke to rush the ball out of defence. With Erik Nevland certainly giving Stoke’s defence a hard night, Dempsey was able to find space to drill a rising left-footed strike just over the bar from 25 yards.
Matthew Etherington handed Stoke the lead on 83 minutes with a crisp finish from 10 yards out. Ricardo Fuller was allowed time to pick his cross after Paul Konchesky lost his footing. The ball reached Etherington via a somewhat fortuitous deflection off Tuncay but there was no double about the winger’s finish – a powerful shot which went in off the near post.
John Pantsil was replaced by Stefano Okaka on 85 minutes but with the game petering out, Etherington’s goal proved to be the decider.