Danny Murphy, as articulate as any Premier League footballer, was left to rue a misguided 12-month-old character assassination of what he considered to be an over-physical Stoke City team as he and his Fulham colleagues were eventually pummeled into submission.
Less committed sides would have settled for what looked like developing into a tame draw but Stoke have proved during their four-year stay among the elite that what they may lack in style, they more than make up for in courage.
Their burning desire to strike back at Murphy's "crazy tackling" jibe and their refusal to stop banging away at a Fulham defence – which had stood firm for the previous 515 minutes of action since being breached twice by Manchester City in mid-September – was eventually rewarded with two goals in the last 10 minutes through Jonathan Walters and Rory Delap. Those late breakthroughs made it a flattering result for Tony Pulis and his men but they cared little about that as they cemented their position in the top half of the table before returning to European duties against Maccabi Tel Aviv on Thursday.
"It's been a great start to the season and we are very pleased," said Pulis. "But we know how quickly things can change in this game. If you take your eye off the ball, everything can crumble in no time."
Pulis praised the patience of Stoke's supporters and understood that they are not yet ready to draw a line under the Murphy affair, even though he is letting the matter drop.
"In a way it helped us," Pulis reflected. "There were times when the game went quiet but the fans kept on the ball [in barracking Murphy]."
Fulham, who will also be involved in Europe's second division when they travel to Krakow in advance of their next domestic engagement against Everton, were left ruing their failure to stay solid for their entire visit to one of the most daunting domestic battlegrounds.
"If you are hoping to hang on for a 0-0 you have to do your bit for 90 minutes, not 80," said Martin Jol, a disconsolate visiting manager. "Stoke are a hard team to play against and we had silenced them by playing to their style and trying to fight against them.
"A lot of teams have problems here but we started brightly so it's frustrating to lose in the way we did. You know that they are always likely to score against you from set pieces so you need the cushion of a goal of your own."
John Arne Riise came closest to silencing the noisy natives with a thunderous shot against the angle of post and bar but any sense of a Fulham grievance was cancelled out by a succession of near misses at the other end. Mark Schwarzer's goal frame rattled just as severely when the industrious Delap shot on the turn, while it needed the speedy reactions of Chris Baird on the goal line to prevent the dangerous Peter Crouch from breaking the deadlock before his front-running partner Walters did so.
Walters' fourth goal of the season was an instinctive tap-in from close range after Crouch had teed up Matthew Etherington with a header back from the far post. Fulham's misery was complete seven minutes later when nobody bothered to jump with Delap following Etherington's dangerous free kick.
Chances had been a rare commodity in a disappointing first half, the best of them being carved out in stoppage time by Jermaine Pennant. Stoke's nippy winger swapped passes with Crouch in the Fulham penalty area and glided past two cautious would-be tacklers. The stunning dribble deserved a goal; sadly the finish – a few inches wide of the far post – did not.
Stoke should have been ahead before then as Crouch spurned two great chances. Twice the ball fell at his feet on the six-yard line but each time he failed to make clean contact, much to Schwarzer's relief.
Stoke (4-4-2): Begovic; Wilkinson, Shawcross, Woodgate, Wilson; Pennant (Whitehead, 82), Delap, Whelan, Etherington (Diao, 90+1); Walters, Crouch.
Fulham (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Baird, Hangeland, Hughes, J Riise; Dembele (Duff, 36), Murphy (Briggs, 80), Sidwell, Dempsey; Zamora, Johnson (Sa, 85).
Referee: Martin Atkinson.
Man of the match: Rory Delap (Stoke)
Match rating: 6/10Reuse content