Match Report: Dimitar Berbatov masterpiece paints promising picture of Fulham’s future

Fulham 1 Stoke City 0

If this was the moment which will keep Fulham in the Premier League next season, it was worthy of it.

The only goal here yesterday was a volleyed masterpiece from Dimitar Berbatov, the most artistic player in the division.

It won the points for Fulham, sending them a healthy nine clear of the relegation zone. The regulars here can look forward to another year of aesthetic entertainment from Berbatov next season.

The goal was the final action of a tense and anxious first half, and was at odds with everything that came before it. In added time, Ashkan Dejagah and Sascha Riether combined down the right wing and Riether crossed into the box. Robert Huth headed the ball back out and into the air. Berbatov, just inside the area, anticipating the ball’s arc, stood and waited for it to fall. With wonderful balance, judgement and technique he struck through the ball. It flew, as only a perfectly volleyed football can, past Asmir Begovic and into the near top corner of the net.

“I told him a couple of months ago he never scored volleys any more because he used to do it all the time,” Fulham manager, Martin Jol, said afterwards. Berbatov ran over to Jol when he scored to remind him of that, but the manager was pleased: “He tries to prove a point, because he’s a good sport.”

Berbatov said it was not an unusual occurrence. “It’s all about the practice,” he explained. “I practise in training and score against Mark [Schwarzer] all the time. You just need to do something special and you do it. It is a good one but I have better ones.”

Jol insisted afterwards that the contribution of Schwarzer was just as crucial to the victory. “There were a few things that were important to us,” he said. “It was a special team effort and a special goalkeeper, he made three great saves.”

Schwarzer had to save Jonathan Walters’s penalty early in the second half, diving low to his right when many would have expected power down the middle. “We looked at video footage before the game and I was relatively confident where it was going to go,” he explained. That was the closest Stoke came to scoring and, as the game went on, Fulham, increasingly relaxed and confident, started to dominate.

That was largely thanks to the effect of Berbatov’s goal because before then there was little in the game. Fulham had won one of their last five games, Stoke one of their previous seven. The play was slow, patchy and the only highlights were indiscretions. Berbatov elbowed Steven Nzozni. Bryan Ruiz handballed Damien Duff’s free-kick into the net and was booked. Nzonzi smacked Ruiz in the face and, rather generously, was only booked himself.

Fulham were the better side; Dejagah shot wide while Begovic had to save from Giorgos Karagounis and John Arne Riise, but it was only in the second half that the game started to open up.

Just 10 minutes into that second period Stoke had their chance with the penalty after Dejagah raised his arms to block Brek Shea’s cross, but Walters could not beat Schwarzer. Tony Pulis threw on Cameron Jerome and Kenwyne Jones in the hope of adding more physical presence up front but, with Brede Hangeland on top form, Stoke could not get through.

“In the second half we missed an opportunity, missed a penalty – that’s been our story away from home,” Pulis said. “We haven’t taken chances when games have been tight.”

Fulham’s passing improved, with Karagounis, Riether and Dejagah all impressive, and they could have scored a second. Karagounis curled a shot over, Steve Sidwell had one deflected wide and substitute Mladen Petric misdirected in added time. But quality had already told.

Fulham (4-2-3-1): Schwarzer; Riether, Senderos, Hangeland, Riise; Sidwell, Karagounis (Baird, 81); Duff (Emanuelson, 86), Ruiz, Dejagah; Berbatov (Petric, 90).

Stoke (4-2-3-1): Begovic; Shotton, Shawcross, Huth, Wilson; Nzonzi, Whelan; Walters, Cameron (Jerome, 51), Etherington (Shea, 24); Crouch (Jones, 70).

Referee: Lee Probert

Man of the match: Berbatov (Fulham)

Match rating: 6/10

News
people
Sport
Yaya Sanogo celebrates scoring the opening goal with Arsenal's English midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
champions leagueLive: All the latest from the Emirates and Bulgaria, where Liverpool face Ludogorets
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire