After collecting only one point from two favourable-looking home games against Southampton and Swansea, the meagre number of travelling Fulham supporters to the Hawthorns for the 12:45 kick off on New Years’ Day told you everything you needed to know about their hopes of their team obtaining only a second away Premier League victory of the season against high-flying West Brom.
The Baggies have gone off the boil recently but considering Fulham had only won one of their last twelve Premier League matches and taken only seven points on the road all season long, it made the eventual victory for the London side all the more surprising. The Cottagers rode their luck at times, particularly in the closing stages when the home side began to exert a considerable degree of pressure via the aerial ball. However for the most part, Fulham were more comfortable away from home than they had been in a very long time and for that, they should be given credit despite any perceived West Brom failings.
In Dimitar Berbatov, Martin Jol’s side once again had the class act on the field. After making such an explosive start to this career at Craven Cottage, the Bulgarian’s influence has slowly waned in recent weeks as the toils of his team-mates’ dependency on him increasingly begins to show. Far from being the fulcrum of Fulham’s entire game as he was at the Emirates in his side’s 3-3 draw with Arsenal in early November, Berbatov has been reduced to a fringe presence in recent matches, becoming ever more frustrated with his teammates.
There remained signs of that against West Brom and you can hardly blame the Bulgarian at times for his anger. This is a man who has been used to playing with the likes of Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs behind him playing perfectly weighted balls to his feet. For all their quality and industry, Steve Sidwell and Chris Baird simply do not lack the same talent or imagination.
However, when he turns on as he did for a period at the Hawthorns, Berbatov is simply unplayable. The West Brom defence, for the second time this season, simply could not get near him and that was none more exemplified than by the opening goal. Having collected the ball on the edge of his own box, the Bulgarian swept the ball wide with a glorious pass to Ashkan Dejagah and in uncharacteristic style, galloped forwards to tuck away the winger’s cut-back past Ben Foster in the West Brom net.
That goal set the Cottagers on their way to a victory that leaves them six points above the drop zone as they await the visit of Blackpool in the FA Cup, a gap that Jol will surely be comfortable with as he looks to aim for the top half of the Premier League, rather than looking over his shoulder, once again.
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