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David Stockdale endured a goalkeeping recall he will want to forget as his errors contributed to Swansea City’s 2-1 victory at Craven Cottage and sucked his Fulham side closer to the Barclays Premier League drop zone.
Stockdale, making his first top-flight appearance for 11 months in place of the injured Mark Schwarzer, played a part in both Danny Graham’s and Jonathan de Guzman’s goals before the watchful eye of England manager Roy Hodgson.
Fulham pulled a goal back as they rallied in wet and windy rally conditions with Bryan Ruiz’s shot going in off Sascha Riether but it was not enough to stop the west Londoners from slipping to a defeat which leaves them four points above the drop zone. By contrast, even without their injured top scorer Michu, the Swans were able to stay 10 clear of danger.
The punishing festive schedule seemed to be behind both managers’ decisions to ring the changes, Fulham making six and Swansea seven. Each were without their first-choice keepers, with Swansea resting Michel Vorm and recalling Gerhard Tremmel.
While they were also missing Michu, Fulham were able to call upon the fit-again Ruiz, something that would have been more of a relief to Dimitar Berbatov than anyone.
Berbatov may have been poking fun when exposing his ‘Keep calm and pass me the ball’ T-shirt in the Boxing Day draw with Southampton, but he clearly missed his influential team-mate and it did not take the pair long to rekindle their understanding.
Indeed, Berbatov probably might scored in the 10th minute when he outmuscled his marker six yards out only to volley Ruiz’s corner into the ground and over the bar. Otherwise, both teams looked like sides on a poor run of form, Fulham having won just one in 11 and Swansea without a victory in four league games.
When the opening goal came it resulted from a mistake in the 19th minute. Nathan Dyer scuffed a deflected cross from the right towards the corner of Stockdale’s goal and the keeper, who was last week recalled from his loan spell at Hull, slapped the ball straight back into danger, Graham doing well to readjust and hook the ball back into the net.
Berbatov tried to inspire an equaliser but Kerim Frei blasted his lay-off wide from a tight angle before Ruiz fired a free-kick just off target and volleyed another Berbatov knockdown over the bar. Tremmel then palmed a Ruiz curler to safety before the interval, during which Swansea sent on Ki Sung-yueng for Wayne Routledge. Ruiz almost got the better of the motionless Swans keeper when his latest free-kick curled inches wide.
But Stockdale erred once more in the 52nd minute when he cleared the ball straight against Brede Hangeland and it rebounded straight to Pablo Hernandez, who squared to De Guzman, who sidefooted the ball in.
At the other end, Tremmel made a decent stop from Ruiz’s powerful half-volley but he was finally beaten a minute later, when Berbatov headed Frei’s cross against the bar and his follow-up was blocked straight to Ruiz, whose point-blank finish was going in but hit Riether on the way in.
Suddenly it was all Fulham and the wet surface helped Georgios Karagounis force a spill from Tremmel straight into the path of Berbatov, but this time the offside flag was raised as he slotted home.
Graham forced another uncomfortable save from Stockdale on the break and the home side’s misery was complete when Berbatov directed a stoppage-time header off target.
Fulham manager Martin Jol: "We made it difficult for them, but the first two goals we presented to them. Tactically, it was our best game and I enjoyed watching us but it wasn't to be. But we are disappointed not to pick up any more points in these last two home games.
"The only one who didn't have the best Christmas Day was my goalkeeper and he's a very good goalkeeper. I won't blame him but you can see that we gave them the two goals - simple. I feel that the first goal we presented to them and the second goal was almost a Christmas gift.
"I don't think if you play in the way we played today that you will have these sorts of disappointing results, because will pick up points. We made it difficult for them, tactically it was probably our best game over the last couple of months. I really enjoyed watching us."
"[Bryan Ruiz] was one of our best players so I'm very happy that he's back to his old level and that he's pulling the strings. How many games do you play when you don't pick up anything from games like we played today? If you look at the other teams and the quality we've got and they've got, I think we will keep a few teams under us. The only thing is you have to pick up points. Seven wins and we will be in a great position. Even six wins. And I think we are capable of doing that."
Swansea City manager Michael Laudrup: “I'm delighted. I knew it would be a hard game because it was our second away trip in the space of three days. We got the first goal which was important, but even after they scored, I knew it would be a long second half. They had 15-20 minutes where they put us under pressure after the goal but I knew that if they didn't score in that period, then we would win the game, but we've shown today that we can win in difficult circumstances because our passing wasn't at our best as Fulham pressed us well."
"It was so important for [Danny Graham] to score. Strikers love to score goals and when they don't, they are not happy. He hasn't scored that many this season and when they score, strikers can often go on and get four or five in a row.
Michel [Vorm] has been out for eight weeks and with four games in 10 days, it was important to give him a rest. I had to think about the last game and the ones we have coming up and Gerhard came in and gave a great performance by making some important saves."
|01 Jan 2013||v West Brom (A)|
|12 Jan 2013||v Wigan (H)|
|19 Jan 2013||v Man City (A)|
|30 Jan 2013||v West Ham (H)|
|02 Feb 2013||v Man Utd (H)|
|09 Feb 2013||v Norwich (A)|