Match report: Dimitar Berbatov impresses as Fulham start 2013 with victory over West Brom

West Brom 1 Fulham 2

The Hawthorns

A midnight fireworks display denied the Fulham team a full night’s sleep but did not stop them putting a rocket under Albion’s hopes to start 2013 by consolidating their unexpected place among the Champions League contenders.

Martin Jol and his players had stayed in a central Birmingham hotel ahead of the 12.45pm kick-off at The Hawthorns, which turned out to be an unwise choice when the new year was marked by 20 minutes of noisy pyrotechnics.

“We needed a quiet hotel and suddenly there were 2,000 people outside and fireworks going off,” Jol said. “It kept the players awake and I was a bit worried, but we got the right result.

“It was annoying... but it was the best fireworks display I’ve ever seen, so it was worthwhile staying up.”

Steve Clarke, the Albion manager, had hoped for something explosive from his team after Saturday’s trip to Manchester United brought a fourth defeat in seven matches, but they went behind to a classy 39th-minute goal from Dimitar Berbatov.

The Bulgarian, who scored twice in a 3-0 win over Albion in September on his home debut for Fulham, released Ashkan Dejagah with a deft pass to the right flank before timing his run perfectly for the return, arriving in space inside the home penalty area to slot calmly past Ben Foster.

Clarke roused his troops for a much brighter start to the second half and they levelled within four minutes of the restart when full-back Billy Jones got behind the Fulham defence to find Romelu Lukaku with a low cross that the Belgian turned in from close range.

The visitors were besieged, as Lukaku hit the outside of the right-hand post after holding off Aaron Hughes, and then Fulham somehow survived a triple assault in which David Stockdale saved from Lukaku, a James Morrison follow-up hit the left-hand post and Hughes made an airborne block as Chris Brunt tried to convert the rebound.

Fulham, who had never before won a Premier League match at The Hawthorns, struck again on the break after Costa Rican midfielder Bryan Ruiz found Alex Kacaniklic with a superb pass through the centre, the Swede turning and picking his spot despite having Jones and Gareth McAuley in close attendance.

Clarke sent on Shane Long and Peter Odemwingie, but could not force a second equaliser.  “It was three points thrown away, and I’ve told the players they need to claw those back somewhere,” he said.

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