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Fulham eased their relegation worries as Alexander Kacaniklic's second-half goal earned them a win at West Bromwich Albion in the Barclays Premier League. Martin Jol’s side had slid towards the bottom three after winning only one of their previous 12 games but were well worth their second away success of the campaign.
Dimitar Berbatov's seventh goal of the season gave Fulham a half-time lead, and although Romelu Lukaku levelled after the break, Kacaniklic restored the visitors' advantage. It enabled Fulham to complete their first Premier League win at The Hawthorns at the seventh attempt and a double after the 3-0 win at Craven Cottage in September.
Berbatov had netted twice in that game and was again an inspirational figure with his vision and control, while Kacaniklic was a handful down the flanks. Albion struggled to produce the form which had taken them into the top half of the table, despite the efforts of on-loan Chelsea striker Lukaku and midfielder Youssouf Mulumbu who returned from injury.
Fulham knocked the ball about in confident fashion in the early stages with Kacaniklic prominent. Steve Sidwell made a run towards the West Brom box unopposed but his shot flew well wide while three corners in quick succession were comfortably dealt with by the home defence.
Albion struggled to find any initial momentum and it was 20 minutes before they threatened, with Gareth McAuley heading past the post from a Chris Brunt free-kick. Fulham goalkeeper David Stockdale then raced off his line to save at the feet of Lukaku after he had exchanged passes with Zoltan Gera.
West Brom woke after a quiet start and Lukaku bore down on goal after shaking off the challenge of Sascha Riether, but Sidwell made good ground to put in a crucial tackle. Gabriel Tamas glanced a header wide from a Brunt corner before Berbatov wasted a golden opportunity. A mistake by Brunt left the former Manchester United player with a clear run towards Ben Foster but he shot over the bar.
Berbatov made amends after 39 minutes by putting Fulham ahead. Ashkan Dejagah turned inside Liam Ridgewell before squaring the ball across the box to Berbatov, whose first-time shot flew past Foster. Mulumbu headed wide from a Ridgewell centre but Albion left the pitch at half-time to the sound of boos after a below-par performance.
The atmosphere quickly changed with Lukaku needing only three minutes of the second period to put West Brom on level terms. Marc-Antoine Fortune spread the ball out wide to Billy Jones, who skipped past Sidwell before crossing for Lukaku to make no mistake from close range.
The home side were revitalised and Lukaku held off Aaron Hughes before crashing a rising shot against the outside of a post. Stockdale denied Lukaku and Gera in quick succession and the rebound broke to Brunt, whose shot was headed off the line by Aaron Hughes.
But after 57 minutes Fulham regained the lead against the run of play through Kacaniklic's third goal of the season. Bryan Ruiz played a lofted ball forward to the Swede on the edge of the box and he checked back inside before firing home.
Clarke made a double change after 65 minutes with Gera and Fortune making way for Shane Long and Peter Odemwingie. Lukaku continued to pose a threat and was only just off target with his header from Long's centre. But Fulham were looking full of confidence and Dejagah was only just off target with a dipping drive.
West Brom head coach Steve Clarke: "It was a poor first half from us but a much better second half. On what we produced in the second half, we deserved at least a point out of the game. But the first half was really disappointing because we've set really high standards here at the Hawthorns and we didn't reach them in the first half.
"It is difficult, four games in 11 days, the physical and mental tiredness as well, and I just asked the players to dig deep within themselves and find something. But having got back into the game, we switched off and allowed Fulham to steal a goal on the counter-attack which makes it doubly difficult because then you have to go and raise yourself again."
Fulham manager Martin Jol: "We needed a bit of luck. We did well in the first half and scored a good goal. In the second half, they changed their formation a bit, the crowd got behind them and we conceded a soft goal again. But we picked things up again, found ourselves in midfield and, over the whole game, I felt the win was deserved.
"I don't want to talk about [Berbatov] all the time because other players will probably get annoyed. If you don't get the results, they will pick on him and, if you get the results, you will say he was fantastic. But I'm very happy that he is playing for us.
"Probably the best fireworks were yesterday at 12 o'clock in front of my hotel! That was annoying. I said we needed a quiet hotel and it was unbelievable. There were 2,000 people in front of my window! I think it kept the players up too so I was worried. At first I thought it was fans, but it wasn't. To then get a win under our belts the next day, on the first of January, is fantastic.
"It was typical English! Unbelievable celebrations for 15 or 20 minutes then everybody goes home and shoots off and it's quiet after 30 minutes! I was in a penthouse suite at the Hyatt Hotel. The next time we'll go to the Moat House where I lived for seven months when I was younger [as an Albion player]!"
|12 Jan 2013||v Reading (A)|
|19 Jan 2013||v Aston Villa (H)|
|30 Jan 2013||v Everton (A)|
|03 Feb 2013||v Tottenham (H)|
|11 Feb 2013||v Liverpool (A)|
|23 Feb 2013||v Sunderland (H)|