In the past, Fulham have been very generous to the newly-promoted sides. In Chris Coleman’s final full season, we failed to beat any of the new arrivals to the top flight and even last season we struggled to see off any of our fellow strugglers. Fortunately, today we showed little mercy to the bottom side West Brom, although at half time a combination of the Putney End woodwork and Scott Carson threatened to keep us at bay.
Roy Hodgson reverted to – Olivier Dacourt apart – what must be considered our strongest line-up after our defeat at the champions in midweek. Paul Konchesky and Andy Johnson returned from muscle strains and there could be no complaints about the inclusion of Dickson Etuhu, who looked as though he’d gained a yard of pace in central midfield and had probably his best game for the Whites since joining us in January. Etuhu was outstanding as a defensive shield for our midfield, sweeping up attacks and came close with a swerving shot from 20 yards.
It was good to see the Whites show plenty of invention at the Cottage against a side who seemed a little limited in attack and you felt that they would have settled for a point. Our attitude was typified by a slick passing move that released Johnson, whose promising run was ended by a cynical trip from Gianni Zuiverloon around 20 yards from goal. A cluster of players contested the taking of the free-kick, but captain Danny Murphy won the debate and came very close to beating Carson at his near post. The former England goalkeeper turned the ball onto the post at full stretch and a grateful West Brom defence hacked the rebound to safety.
Simon Davies, restored to his favoured right-hand side, also looked as though he had returned to the kind of form that saw him shine so brightly for much of a dismal season last term. A piece of quick thinking from Konchesky saw the Welsh midfielder collect the ball from a corner on the right cut inside and hit a cross-cum-shot towards the far corner, which Carson did well to tip away from danger.
The Baggies defensive line showed signs of wilting under the pressure. Both Leon Barnett and Zuiverloon managed to miskick on the edge of their own penalty area but Fulham were reluctant to pull the trigger until Etuhu drove at goal with real power from just outside the box and Carson was again called into action to fist the shot away from danger.
There was a moment of high hilarity just before the break when a seemingly innocuous Fulham attack had petered out. Barnett’s back header was slightly misdirected and caught Carson out of position, but the keeper managed to scramble back towards his own goal and push the ball away from danger. It would have been a slightly farcial way for Fulham to take the lead, but even when Carson was clearly beaten the frame of the goal came to West Brom’s rescue.
Clint Dempsey had been a decent outlet on the left of midfield but looked very effective when he tiptoed inside. There didn’t seem to be an awful lot when he collected the ball around 30 yards from goal but he hit a curling shot that saw Carson stranded and the ball bounced off the top of the post. Murphy’s looping shot from a little closer in also beat the former Liverpool and Aston Villa custodian but saw his shot come strike the top of the bar. The closest West Brom came to a goal in the first half was a shot from James Morrison that Schwarzer did well to parry at his near post.
Zamora spurned a glorious opportunity when Davies flicked the ball on into his path, skying his shot and the crowd were beginning to get his back. Little did they know that his luck was about to change (and it says something about the fickle nature of the football fan that they were all soon singing his name with real gusto). It was just as well as substitute Chris Brunt had already created two openings from nothing for Marc-Antoine Fortune in quick succession but the forward fluffed a header and wanted too many touches before taking a shot on the second ocassion.
Fulham swept up the other end and opened the scoring. The excellent Pantsil showed that there was nothing wrong with his distribution, whipping over a threatening cross from the right. Attacking the near post,Johnson flicked the ball across goal and Zamora had the simplest of tasks to tap home from a yard. The former West Ham striker, whose position had sparked much debate on this site and elsewhere, celebrated his first goal in 1,763 league minutes, with relief. His only previous league goal had come against Bolton in September.
The confidence was now coursing through Zamora’s veins. He could have doubled the lead only a couple of minutes later, but lifted his shot over the bar after a swift Fulham counter-attack. The miss seemed to spark West Brom briefly into life as their best spell of the game saw Robert Koren sting the palms of Mark Schwarzer from distance and Borja Valero drove a shot wide of goal.
Shades of Reading away came with our fourth effort hitting the frame of goal. This time it was big Brede Hangeland who made a nuisance of himself in the West Brom box and his header from a corner looked to be heading inside the near post until a combination of Carson and the crossbar meant that the scoreline still stayed at 1-0.
Fulham weren’t to be denied the crucial second that their dominance merited. Zamora burst down the inside left channel and through on goal but saw his fierce drive parried by Carson. The ball broke to Johnson, who took a touch to steady himself before tucking away the rebound. There was still time for the party atmosphere to be enhanced by the return of Diomansy Kamara as a late substitute against his former club.
The victory might not have been so convincing had Schwarzer not saved a stoppage-time spot-kick from Roman Bednar, who had – in the eyes of the referee anyway – been tripped by Hangeland. It seemed nothing was set to spoil our Sunday, as Liverpool’s draw with Manchester City might we had not only crept back into the top half of the table but risen as high as eighth place with this win.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Konchesky, Hughes, Hangeland; Etuhu, Murphy (Dacourt 85), Davies, Dempsey; A. Johnson (Nevland 81), Zamora (Kamara 81). Subs (not used): Zuberbuhler, Baird, Kallio, Gray.
GOALS: Zamora (61), A. Johnson (72).
WEST BROMWICH ALBION (4-4-2): Carson; Zuiverloon, Robinson, Meite, Barnett; Morrison (Mensequez 77), Koren, Teixeira (Brunt 50), Valero; Fortune (Bednar 81), Simpson. Subs (not used): Kiely, Moore, Cech, Martis.
REFEREE: Martin Atkinson (West Yorkshire).