Duff faces race to be fit for Europa final after Stoke's smash-and-grab

Fulham 0 Stoke City 1
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The Independent Online

You learnt everything you need to know about Roy Hodgson by his reaction to the banner than was displayed at Craven Cottage last night as the Fulham manager and his players started their lap of honour after their final home game of a remarkable season.

"Vote Roy for Prime Minister," the banner said. Hodgson walked straight past without even giving it a second glance. Now is not the time for celebrations or pats on the back. Next Wednesday Fulham will play the biggest game in the club's history and if Hodgson's team beat Atletico Madrid they will lift a major trophy for the first time in 131 years.

An injured calf muscle may rule Damien Duff out of the Europa League final in Hamburg and Bobby Zamora is also facing a race against time to spearhead the Fulham attack in Germany. "Bobby stands a chance," Hodgson said. "He is not making vast progress every day, so it's touch and go."

In an ideal world, Fulham would have faced less committed opponents than Stoke City seven days before the final. Several crunching first-half tackles let Fulham players know that the visitors meant business after Hodgson had made the curious decision of starting with a full-strength XI in a largely meaningless fixture.

It was not until the second half that Stoke got to grips with Fulham's crisp passing game and there was an element of good fortune when Tony Pulis's team scored seven minutes from time. Tuncay Sanli appeared to help a cross by Ricardo Fuller on to Matthew Etherington with a hand before the winger beat Mark Schwarzer from close range. "It's the big decisions that count and I think the referee made a genuine error," Hodgson said.

Stoke fans must have been fearing another trip to West London after the humiliating 7-0 defeat they had to endure at Chelsea recently. That pathetic display led to more arguments and recriminations than an average episode of EastEnders and the fallout is likely to lead to players such as David Kitson leaving in the summer.

Kitson was missing again from the Stoke squad after being dropped for the goalless draw with Everton last Saturday. "I've had a great response from the players since Chelsea," Pulis, the Stoke manager, said. "The difference between tonight and Chelsea was that everyone turned up and had a go. I'm very pleased because we showed great spirit and resilience."

Atletico are unlikely to rely on Rory Delap-style long throws to unsettle Fulham. The challenge Hodgson is facing is to find a way to keep attacking players such as Diego Forlan and Sergio Aguero quiet. Little has ruffled Fulham's centre-back pairing of Brede Hangeland and Aaron Hughes this season and there is every reason to think Fulham can triumph next week.

To have the best chance of doing so, they will need Zamora back and a fully fit Duff. The winger has been in scintillating form since he swapped Newcastle for west London in August last year and Fulham missed his attacking threat when he was replaced by Erik Nevland at half time last night. "I hope Duff's injury is not too serious," Hodgson said. "One of his muscles was cramping up but I'll know more on Friday."

We might know the identity of a new Prime Minister tomorrow. Roy for PM? It does not seem like such a bad option.

Fulham (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil (Okaka, 86), Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky; Duff, Murphy, Etuhu, Davies; Gera, Dempsey. Substitutes not used Zuberbühler (gk), Baird Nevland, Riise, Smalling, Dikgacoi.

Stoke City (4-4-2): Begovic; Wilkinson, Huth, Shawcross, Higginbotham; Delap, Whelan, Whitehead, Etherington (Diao, 88); Fuller (Lawrence, 90), Sidibe (Tuncay, 71). Substitutes not used Simonsen (gk), Pugh, Collins, Moult.

Referee P Walton (Northamptonshire).

Booked Fulham: Hughes; Stoke: Huth, Fuller.

Man of the match Etherington

Attendance 20,831.

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