Fulham ended 2010 in style with an impressive 2-0 win over Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium on Tuesday afternoon. Chris Baird's brace secured the points for Fulham with two stunning strikes from distance.
Mark Hughes made two changes to his starting eleven for Tuesday’s Barclays Premier League encounter against Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium. The Manager's decision to recall Chris Baird to the starting eleven proved a masterstroke, with the Northern Ireland international scoring two goals in the opening ten minutes of play.
Baird came in for Carlos Salcido at left back whilst Damien Duff replaced Zoltan Gera in midfield. The selection of Baird was inspired - the defender scoring the first goal of the game after just three minutes of play with a powerful drive from the edge of the area.
Andrew Johnson almost doubled Fulham’s lead five minutes later but Begovic’s smart save from close range denied the striker after a fine left footed strike from the edge of the area.
Fulham’s day got even better after 10 minutes when Baird smashed home a free-kick from the right hand side of the area to give Fulham a two-nil lead. Baird's sweet strike arrowed into the bottom corner of the net. It was a stunning start by Fulham at the Britannia Stadium.
After Baird’s brace the game was held up for four minutes whilst Rory Delap received treatment for a head wound following an aerial dual with Brede Hangeland. Hughes' Team were certainly taking no prisoners - their desire to win every second ball was evident from the first whistle.
Inevitably Stoke’s aerial challenge into Fulham's area arrived after 15 minutes of play but Hughes’ defence stood firm. The home crowd's displeasure after just quarter of an hour was evident – Fulham were doing a fine job and the Potters' frustration was clear.
Stoke’s first clear opportunity of the game came just before the 20 minute mark from a corner. Pennant’s delivery found Jones in the box, but his headed effort flew just over Schwarzer’s far post.
The home side’s penetration came from deep with deliveries from Pennant out wide or long range throw-ins from Delap. On every occasion Fulham coped admirably, with Hangeland and Schwarzer performing superbly on Tuesday.
Crucially Fulham continued to match the home side's physical challenge and with Dempsey and Johnson keeping their positions high up the pitch, Hughes' attacking duo provided a valuable outlet and on numerous occassions threatened on the counter attack.
As the first half wore on Fulham’s looked more than comfortable with their two-nil lead, absorbing everything Stoke had to offer whilst retaining possession with some intelligent distribution. Danny Murphy enjoyed a fine game in central midfield on Tuesday, orchestrating the play from the middle of the park.
Fulham had Murphy to thank for keeping their two goal cushion intact either side of half time. After clearing Shawcross’ headed effort off the line just before the break Murphy then deflected a dangerous free-kick away from goal in the opening minutes of the second half.
At the other end Andrew Johnson was showing plenty of guile and pace down the channels and always looked capable of breaking through Stoke’s defensive line. The striker appeared to enjoy the physical challenge at the Britannia, throwing himself into every challenge and block with full-blooded commitment.
Rather than endure a sustained period of pressure from the home side, who were desperate to get a foothold back in the match, the balance of play was as much in Stoke’s half at the start of the second period, thanks to a share of possession for Fulham earned from being first to every second ball.
Fulham’s sheer determination was personified by Chris Baird who picked up a booking after 55 minutes following an over exuberant challenge. Baird’s entry into Kevin Friend’s book preceded the first substitution of the match, with Ricardo Fuller replacing Walters in attack.
Fuller certainly got the home crowd on their feet and his introduction marked the beginning of a sustained bout of pressure from Stoke. However Fulham's defence was inpenetrable on Tuesday. The atmosphere inside the Britannia was electric as Fulham refused to give the home side an inch. It was a truly impressive battling performance from Hughes’ men.
Ten minutes after bringing on Fuller, Pulis made his second change of the match, introducing Tuncay for Etherington. Moments later Mark Schwarzer pulled off an outstanding save from Huth to keep Fulham's two goal margin intact. With twenty minutes remaining it was a pivotal moment of the second half.
With ten minutes on the clock Ricardo Fuller missed a glorious chance to reduce the deficit and his miss marked the beginning of the end for Stoke on Tuesday. The crowd grew quieter in the final stages as it became evident the Fulham's defence would not be breached.
Fulham thoroughly deserved their victory over Stoke City on Tuesday and great credit must go to Mark Hughes and his Team - it was a morale boosting away win that has ended 2010 in winning fashion. The Whites moved back up the table to 16th place on Tuesday evening and the Club's attention will now turn towards the first game of 2011 - a London derby against Spurs at White Hart Lane on Saturday.