Two goals in the last ten minutes ensured Stoke City beat Fulham this afternoon at the Britannia Stadium. Jon Walters made the crucial breakthrough with ten minutes to play – instinctively turning home a Matthew Etherington drive – and Rory Delap made sure of the points seven minutes later heading home from Etherington’s free-kick.
The hard fought victory continued Stoke’s strong start to the season with Tony Pulis’ side sitting in the top half of the table after collecting twelve points from their first eight matches. Etherington, who had been recalled to the side following a sugar injection for his troublesome back, made a key difference down the left flank with his delivery and drive eventually proving decisive.
Fulham won a corner in the fifth minute and Danny Murphy’s delivery was flapped at by Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, but also missed by everyone else. Murphy sent a free-kick wide of the target before Andy Wilkinson lashed into the side netting from an innovative set piece routine. The visitors enjoyed quite a bit of the early running with Marc Wilson just preventing Mousa Dembele’s pass from reaching Bobby Zamora and John Arne Riise driving over from distance.
Peter Crouch couldn’t quite get decisive contact on Jermaine Pennant’s cross as he lined up a volley, and six minutes later, he saw a shot blocked by the returning Aaron Hughes. Mark Schwarzer then dashed from his line to stop Crouch from reaching a dangerous Etherington cross first and the former Tottenham winger might have opened the scoring after a lovely interchange with Walters but his disappointing shot dribbled wide.
Zamora perhaps should have put Fulham in front with a header but the England striker’s effort whistled wide, before Pennant and Delap went close either side of the interval. A Delap long throw then caused consternation in the penalty area, with Schwarzer twice spilling the ball and Chris Baird having to scramble off the line as Crouch tried to force the loose ball home. Delap came even closer directly five minutes later when his angled drive came back off the post after taking a deflection off a Fulham defender.
The visitors were now living very dangerously. Danny Murphy cleared off the line from a Marc Wilson header – and referee Martin Atkinson waved away loud appeals for a penalty. Martin Jol’s side offered little as an attacking force but they were a whisker away from stealing the lead when Riise’s rasping free-kick rattled the crossbar.
Stoke finally went in front two minutes later when Fulham failed to close down Etherington and Walters reacted quickest to prod home the winger’s shot from close range. Delap made sure of the points with a firm header from Etherington’s left-wing free kick as Fulham had to endure another miserable away day.
STOKE CITY (4-4-2): Begovic; Wilkinson, Shawcross, Upson, Wilson; Pennant (Whitehead 82), Delap, Whelan, Etherington (Diao 90); Walters, Crouch. Subs (not used): Sorensen, Huth, Jones, Shotton, Jerome.
BOOKED: Delap, Pennant, Whelan, Upson.
GOALS: Walters (80), Delap (87).
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Baird, J.A. Riise, Hughes, Hangeland; Murphy (Etuhu 80), Sidwell, Dempsey, Dembele (Duff 36); Zamora, Johnson (Sa 86). Subs (not used): Etheridge, Kelly, Briggs, Kasami.
BOOKED: Duff, Murphy, Zamora, Baird.
REFEREE: Martin Atkinson (West Yorkshire).