With three games left at the end of last season you would have got decent odds on Fulham being in the Premier League this year, let alone enjoying the best campaign in their history. Roy Hodgson's team, however, won their last three games to survive on goal difference and now, 12 months on, are in seventh place, two positions better than their previous highest finish.
After Saturday's victory at Craven Cottage Fulham fans are thinking about Europe – if they stay seventh they will qualify for next season's Europa League – though their manager sounded a note of caution.
"We can't rule out Manchester City, Tottenham, Wigan and West Ham," Hodgson said. "Any one of those four, plus ourselves, can take that seventh place. It will all depend on who can keep their season going to the death. We have a tough programme, with Everton and Aston Villa here and Chelsea and Newcastle away."
He added: "When we started this season our goal was very simple: to play as well as we'd done at the end of last season, to be very consistent and to make certain that we kept our place in the League without the trauma we suffered last year.
"It would worry me if the expectations started to get too high, because there are four teams in this league who never entertain the thought of relegation and 16 for whom it's never too far from their minds."
Fulham were good value for their fourth victory in their last six matches, particularly after losing Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson to injuries in the first 35 minutes. Erik Nevland proved an excellent deputy, scoring the only goal at the end of a flowing exchange of passes with Johnson after both men had raced the length of the pitch, Danny Murphy ran midfield and Brede Hangeland stood firm in the face of Stoke's aerial bombardment.
Stoke, who should have enough points for survival, rarely threatened when the ball was on the ground, though Ryan Shawcross and Ricardo Fuller both went close with headers from corners. "We came here without six regular players and gave Fulham a game," Tony Pulis, their manager, said. "The lads had a go, but Fulham have a very good record at home."
Fulham (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky (Baird, 82); Gera, Murphy, Etuhu, Dempsey; Johnson (Kamara, 34), Zamora (Nevland, 20). Substitutes not used: Zuberbühler (gk), Dacourt, Gray, Soor.
Stoke (4-4-1-1): Sorensen; Kelly (Sonko, 83), Shawcross, Abdoulaye Faye, Pugh (Dickinson, 87); Lawrence, Whelan, Delap, Etherington; Cresswell (Camara, 83); Fuller. Substitutes not used: Simonsen (gk), Camara, Dickinson, Sonko.
Referee: Lee Mason (Lancashire).
Booked: Fulham: Nevland. Stoke: Lawrence, Shawcross.
Man of the match: Murphy.
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