This was a lot more like it from Fulham. Bobby Zamora returned from being laid low with a virus to deliver the kind of display that makes him virtually unplayable and, even more pleasing, David Elm – who Roy Hodgson surprisingly preffered to Stefano Okaka up front – notched his first goal for the club. Burnley were obdurate and played some pretty football, particular in the first twenty minutes when the movement of Steven Fletcher and David Nugent posed problems for Fulham’s back line but once Danny Murphy put the home side in front there was an assurance about their play.
The relative goal glut that ensured – Hodgson’s side had mustered a grand total of five goals in their eight previous league encounters – lifted the doom and gloom that has been prevalent amongst Fulham fans lately. A dire injury crisis was supposed to rob the side of vigour and see Hodgson reevaluate his priorities. A series of away defeats could prompted a slide down the table that might see us scrapping for our lives again, according to the pessimists. Not so. Fulham have been steadily improving since the nervy win over Portsmouth and thoroughly deserved the three points, even if the margin of victory might have been a bit flattering by the end.
Credit to Brian Laws and Burnley, who didn’t come to sit in and see what happened, preferring to go forward in search of their first away win of the season. They didn’t create a great deal in the early stages but there were some ominous moments as both Hughes and Hangeland were forced into last ditch tackles. There was frustration at the other end as Damien Duff narrowly failed to find the returning Simon Davies, who provided plenty of penetration down the left, at the far post with a low cross. Elm almost opened his account with a curler from 20 yards, but Brian Jensen did well to smother the shot.
The distribution of Fulham’s full backs was splendid throughout. Nicky Shorey continued his fine start to his Fulham career with a gloriously floated ball up to the towering Elm, who might have been offside, and the Swede’s deft flick on found Danny Murphy. The Fulham captain was clinical from six yards, but the visitors could have been level only moments later when Fletcher’s volley flew just past the junction of crossbar and post from outside the box.
Dickson Etuhu, who added plenty of bite to Fulham’s midfield on his return starting line-up, tested Jensen’s reflexes with a fierce shot from the edge of the area and Zamora went close to doubling the lead. The pressure paid soon afterwards, though when Chris Baird sent one of several searching balls into the inside right channel. Zamora pursued it gamely, cut inside his man and fired a shot towards goal. Jensen could only push it out and Elm had his first goal from a simple finish into six yards out.
Laws responded by bringing out Chris Eagles, who I had expected to see in the side from kick off, and Tyrone Mears served notice of Burnley’s continued ambition when his free-kick clipped the top of the crossbar just before the break. Any question of a nervy second period with an awkward two-goal advantage, disappeared when Zamora, who had already drawn a top-drawer save from Jensen, drove a low free-kick into the corner t0 put the game beyond Burnley.
Stefano Okaka came on with victory assured and missed a couple of decent chances to open his Fulham account, although Burnley’s Danish goalkeeper did well to save with his legs as the Italian striker bore down on goal. The press reports make a lot of Hodgson pledging ‘to attack the FA Cup’ this morning. That should make Sunday, with Sven-Goran Eriksson, Lee Hughes and Ade Akinbiyi travelling to the Cottage with Notts County, very interesting indeed.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer, Baird, Shorey, Hughes, Hangeland; Etuhu, Murphy, D. Duff (Riise 77), Davies (Greening 62); Zamora (Okaka 71), Elm. Subs (not used): Zuberbuhler, Smalling, Kelly, Nevland.
GOALS: Murphy (23), Elm (31), Zamora (54).
BURNLEY (4-4-2): Jensen; Mears, Cort (Eagles 32), Carlisle, Edgar; Elliott (Cork 56), McDonald, Bikey, Fox; Fletcher, Nugent (Paterson 76). Subs (not used): Weaver, M. Duff, Blake, Thompson.
REFEREE: Steve Bennett (Orpington).