Football’s a cruel game. David Stockdale, once considered a suitable successor to Joe Hart by Fabio Capello, returned to Craven Cottage after Fulham cut short his loan spell at Hull, will be reflecting on what might have been after his first Premier League start in almost a year went horribly wrong. Having replaced Mark Schwarzer, Stockdale’s ungainly flap afforded Danny Graham the chance to athletically profit from a tame cross from Nathan Dyer and, then, with Fulham pressing for an equaliser early in the second half, cannoned a routine clearance into Brede Hangeland, with disastrous consequences as Pablo Hernandez played in Jonathan de Guzman for Swansea’s second goal.
It would be harsh to blame Fulham’s latest setback solely on Stockdale, who also saved smartly from Graham and de Guzman later in the second period, but the mistakes visibly affected a side already low on confidence. Martin Jol had made six changes from the side held by Southampton on Boxing Day and his reshaped began brightly with Bryan Ruiz shining brightly on his first start in six weeks, floating behind Dimitar Bebartov. The pair combined in the eleventh minute with the Bulgarian volleying over the crossbar having fought to reach Ruiz’s deep cross and Kerim Frei, making his first start of the campaign, might have equalised moments after Graham’s opener when he dragged a left-footed effort across the face of goal.
Graham’s opener severely dented Fulham’s confidence and the home side were lucky not to be down to ten men midway through the first half when Giorgios Karagounis was fortunate to be shown only a yellow card by referee Andre Marriner. Michael Laudrup, who rotated his Swansea squad with the busy festive fixture list in mind, set his side up ideally for the counter attack and the pace of Dyer and former Fulham loanee Wayne Routledge unsettled the already shaky Fulham rearguard. Gerhard Tremmel, who kept goal in place of the fit-again Michel Vorm, palmed away a Ruiz curler and watched two of his free-kicks drift inches off target either side of the interval.
Swansea made light of the absence of their leading scorer Michu, especially once de Guzman had capitalised on Stockdale’s calamitous clearance. It followed the first prolonged period of Fulham pressure of the match, but Jol’s side showed admirable resolve as the rain poured down. Tremmel clawed away a Ruiz drive and the German stand-in goalkeeper was only beaten in controversial fashion a minute later. Berbatov’s header crashed off the bar and, although Ruiz’s follow-up was goalbound, it only entered the net having struck the offside Sascha Riether on its way into the net. Sian Massey’s flag stayed down and Fulham had a lifeline.
The hosts finally played at the kind of tempo that had troubled Swansea in the early stages of the contest. When Tremmel spilled a speculative strike from Karagounis, Massey’s flag correctly signalled that Berbatov had ventured into an offside position this time. Fulham fashioned further opportunities with Ashkan Dejagah failing to produce a final ball or a finish prior to being withdrawn in favour of Hugo Rodallega and Tremmel smothered strikes from Frei and Karagounis. Jol pushed Hangeland forward late in the piece to try and salvage a point – but the closest Fulham came was an injury-time header from Berbatov that floated wide.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Stockdale; Riether, Briggs, Hughes, Hangeland; Karagounis, Sidwell; Dejagah (Rodallega 76), Frei (Senderos 84), Ruiz; Berbatov. Subs (not used): Etheridge, Kelly, Riise, Baird, Richardson.
BOOKED: Karagounis, Sidwell.
GOAL: Ruiz (56).
SWANSEA CITY (4-2-3-1): Tremmel; Rangel, Tiendalli, Williams, Monk; Agustien (Britton 82), de Guzman; Routledge (Ki Sung-Yeung 45), Pablo (Davies 66), Dyer; Graham. Subs (not used): Vorm, Bartley, Schechter, Moore.
GOALS: Graham (19), de Guzman (52).
REFEREE: Andre Marriner.