Fulham’s thirteen year stay in the Premier League is over. The Whites have been relegated from the top flight after a miserable 4-1 defeat at Stoke.
Felix Magath’s team needed to win to keep alive their hopes of survival – and despite Sunderland’s win over Manchester United – they never looked like producing it. Peter Odemwingie opened the scoring with a tap in, the superb Marko Arnautovic doubled the lead and on-loan Liverpool winger Oussama Assaidi added a third. Even when Kieran Richardson rattled in a consolation, Jon Walters rubbed salt into Fulham’s wounds with number four.
Stoke were ‘sensational’ as former Fulham manager Mark Hughes suggested afterwards. But they were helped on their way. It was a damning indictment of Magath’s methods that he put Dan Burn, a centre half, at right back. Not so much a tactical gamble, but a decision that left a promising defender fighting a losing battle from the outset. The rest of the Fulham team badly lacked intensity – surprising in itself for such a pivotal fixture and own emphasis on desire.
Hughes has succeeded in evolving Stoke’s style from the Tony Pulis days, which was one of the aspirations of the board who brought him in. Austrian Arnautovic and Assaidi tore Fulham to shreds from the off. The writing was on the wall long before Odemwingie tapped in the opener from barely a yard out, with Fulham’s defence not looking resolute enough to resist wave after wave of home attacks.
David Stockdale made two superb saves from Stoke’s two wingers in the space of two minutes but the floodgates were soon to open. Assaidi passed with the outside of his boot down the left wing before Odemwingie squared the ball for Arnautovic to slam high into the roof of the net.
Stoke’s third arrived courtesy of a quick break. Steven N’Zonzi won the ball far too easily in the middle of the park, fed Arnautovic and he had the presence of mind to pick out Aissaidi when the temptation would have been to shoot. The on-loan winger had the simplest of finishes.
Even the most optimistic of Fulham fans couldn’t have foreseen a way back from 3-0 down. Richardson did rattle in a reply from the left edge of the box, but it felt like too little, too late. Stoke added another just two minutes later. The home side’s fourth rather summed up the difference between the two sides. Charlie Adam lofted a ball over Fulham’s horrible square defence and Walters showed far more desire to reach it than John Arne Riise and steered a smart finish past Stockdale.
Magath insisted he wanted to remain at Craven Cottage despite losing his prized record of no relegations – but the rebuild for the Championship needs to start quickly.
STOKE CITY (4-2-3-1): Begovic; Cameron, Pieters, Muniesa, Wilson; Whelan, N’Zonzi; Arnautovic, Aissaidi (Etherington 75), Ireland (Adam 70); Odemwingie (Walters 78). Subs (not used): Sorensen, Wilkinson, Palacios, Crouch.
GOAL: Odemwingie (39), Arnautovic (54), Aissaidi (73), Walters (82).
FULHAM (4-1-4-1): Stockdale; Burn (Mitroglou 58), Riise, Heitinga, Hangeland; Diarra (Kasami 73); Sidwell, Parker, Holtby (Dejagah 34), Richardson; Bent. Subs (not used): Joronen, Amorebieta, Riether, Woodrow.
BOOKED: Parker, Dejagah.
GOAL: Richardson (80).
REFEREE: Chris Foy (Merseyside).