These wins aren’t to be underestimated. Stoke are a handful and we rarely thrive against them, but today, despite withstanding a lot of second half pressure, Fulham stood firm and deserved their points.
New players are traditionally given a time to adjust when signing for a new club, but today Pavel Pogrebnyak was thrown straight into the deep end. He did really well, withstanding quite a battering but always competing for and frequently winning the high balls sent his way, shielding the ball well and showing signs of being a fine team player. It was a bit like having a big white fridge freezer up front, except few fridges show composure when in on goal: Pogrebnyak gathered a Riise drive, kept his cool and swept the ball high into the Stoke net with a hefty left boot. It’s lovely to see players make their first appearance for a new club, so much hope and optimism, and when something nice happens like a goal on debut, well that’s terrific isn’t it?
Then we added another. Dempsey shocked everyone by getting a long range strike on target, a 30+ yard drive hurtling through the freezing London air and dropping into the net via some combination of crossbar and goalkeeper. A belter.
Only one team in it at this point, but Tony Pulis’ side gave a much better account of themselves in the second half. Plan A, featuring Peter Crouch and Kenwyne Jones, hadn’t really worked, but the introduction of the lively Jermaine Pennant for the game’s last spell really transformed things, and all of a sudden the game felt dicey. Ryan Shawcross scored what looked like a soft goal from a corner, and much huffing and puffing followed. Jol took off Murphy and brought on Etuhu, as if conceding possession for the remainder, and sure enough the barrage continued. Schwarzer continued to punch clear like a drunken amateur tennis coach demonstrating his service technique to an admirer, but all that came then went, and Fulham held on. It could have been three when Dempsey nipped around the goalkeeper deep in injury time, but his shot from an angle rolled against the post when another goal for his collection seemed almost certain.
Never mind. Three more valuable points, earned with a fine team effort, led by the extraoardinary Dembele, the inexhaustable Duff (great to see him back), the commendable Pogrebnyak, the irrepressable Dempsey and the brave and useful back four. Bryan Ruiz continued to look a bit lost but he still feels like a star in the making, next season being his ETA. Everyone else did their bit, and a good three points to relax those among us with half empty glasses.