Baird's unlikely double allows Hughes to breathe easily again
Stoke City 0 Fulham 2
Wednesday 29 December 2010
Khaki was a strange colour for Fulham to choose for their away kit. In terms of bloodlust and tenacity their nearest military equivalent has been the concert party in It Ain't Half Hot Mum.
They came to the Potteries not having won away from Craven Cottage since August 2009 while a 3-1 defeat to West Ham United on Boxing Day had seen Mark Hughes take a significant step towards the brink.
And yet such has been the essential perversity of the season that two goals from a footballer who had not found the net in more than three years ensured Fulham would have the game comfortably under control before 10 minutes were up.
Not even when he was growing up at Ballymena United was Chris Baird known for his goalscoring, although Hughes was surprised when he was informed that these were his first for Fulham, a club he had joined in the summer of 2007. At the club's training ground, Motspur Park, Baird is consistently one of his best strikers of a football.
The Stoke City manager, Tony Pulis, thought both were saveable by a goalkeeper of Asmir Begovic's ability. There were just four minutes gone when Danny Collins only half-cleared Simon Davies's cross and Baird responded with a shot that Begovic could only tip on to the inside of the post and see the ricochet finish in the net.
The second was struck just as fiercely, hit low from a free-kick that Danny Murphy pushed to Andy Johnson who held it up for Baird to drive low into the left-hand corner of Begovic's goal. Those Fulham fans peering through the fog that had seen the Britannia's floodlights turned on before noon might have struggled to see it, but Fulham were 2-0 up and almost safe.
In this season of bizarre managerial dismissals you would hesitate to say the same about Hughes. The club were said to be anxious rather than panicky about their league position and Hughes had spoken to Fulham's chairman, Mohamed Al-Fayed on Monday. "This week it was me under pressure, next week it will be somebody else," he said.
"But, if we play like we did today, there will be no problems."
Stoke's response was surprisingly ineffectual for a club with such a fearsome reputation on its own pitch. Murphy, jeered constantly because of his unflattering comments about Stoke's uncompromising brand of football, headed off the line in the first half but Mark Schwarzer's first serious save came in the 71st minute.
Neither manager shook hands at the finish, a dispute between two men from opposite ends of Wales that goes back to a Carling Cup game here in September. Nobody really seemed that bothered and with the game obviously won the Fulham fans launched into a chorus of "Jingle Bells". Usually, there are so few of them that most could be accommodated in a one-horse open sleigh but this win may encourage more to take to the road.
Stoke City (4-4-2): Begovic; Wilkinson (Wilson 79), Shawcross, Huth, Collins; Pennant, Whitehead, Delap, Hetherington (Tuncay 69); Walters (Fuller 55), Jones. Substitutes not used Sorensen (gk), Higginbotham, Whelan, Gudjohnsen, Fuller.
Fulham (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Paintsil, Hangeland, Hughes, Baird; Davies, Murphy, Etuhu, Duff; Dempsey, Johnson. Substitutes not used Stockdale (gk), Salcido, Gera, Kamara, Dikgacoi, Greening, Halliche.
Booked Baird, Dempsey.
Man of the match Baird.
Referee K Friend (Leicestershire)
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