Fulham brought their alarming run of league form to a merciful end with a 2-1 victory away at West Bromwich Albion on New Year's Day.
The first Premier League fixture of 2013 saw Martin Jol's side halt a run of three defeats in four thanks to goals from Dimitar Berbatov and Alexander Kacaniklic at the Hawthorns.
However, West Brom were the more consistently dangerous side and hit the woodwork twice after Romelu Lukaku had equalised with a shot from close range on 49 minutes.
Defeat ended Steve Clarke's hopes of moving joint fourth, while Fulham edged seven points clear of danger to calm fears they will be brought right into the relegation battle.
The first half-hour was characterised by patient passing and hurried shots, both sides contributing to a rather uninspiring first Premier League game of 2013, with Aaron Hughes and Gareth McAuley both failing to hit the target with early headers.
Fulham also survived a half-shout for a penalty as Hughes appeared to make contact with the ball using his hand after goalkeeper David Stockdale flapped at a cross. The visitors went unpunished though.
West Brom - targeting joint fourth place with a win - began to exert more control and only a fine piece of defending from Steve Sidwell prevented Lukaku from getting a clean shot away. The resulting corner found Gabriel Tamas at the penalty spot but he headed wide after beating Hughes to the ball.
In a half of few chances, though, it was Fulham who edged in front as the attacking flair of Ashkan Dejagah and Berbatov brought reward. Having already smashed one shot over the bar after linking up with the Iranian winger, on 39 minutes the Bulgarian striker tucked a side-footed effort past Ben Foster after Dejagah did superbly to twist and turn past Ridgewell and play a square ball for his colleague.
There was no 'Keep Calm and Pass Me the Ball' T-shirt this time, but in converting with the only shot on target in the half for his seventh goal of the season, Berbatov sent out much the same message.
However, West Brom addressed their impotency almost immediately after the break. Marc-Antoine Fortune was the catalyst with a brilliant run through the centre of midfield and Billy Jones the provider as he lost Matthew Briggs all too easily with a smart turn. Lukaku looked to be marginally offside when side-footing in from close range but it was a close call.
The equaliser inspired a spell of sustained pressure from the home side, and within minutes Lukaku had struck the post with a firm volley after muscling Hughes off the ball to collect a chipped pass from Morrison.
The Belgian, on loan from Chelsea, then smashed a shot against Stockdale from close range before Zoltan Gera put the rebound against the post. The ball rolled out to Brunt and his curling effort was heading for the top corner before Hughes made a crucial intervention to head away.
Having soaked up so much pressure, Fulham then hit West Brom on the break again. Bryan Ruiz played in Kacaniklic with a lovely pass and the winger spun to lose two markers before rolling the ball past Foster, who had left himself exposed with an ill-judged sprint to the edge of the box.
West Brom threw on Shane Long and Peter Odemwingie in search of an equaliser but Lukaku remained their most persistent threat, the striker sending another header wide of the post despite being moved to the left to accommodate the Ireland international.
Fulham had to withstand wave after wave of West Brom attacks and Brede Hangeland made a crucial clearance from a Jones cross before Stockdale made a vital save to keep out a backheel from Morrison.
However, the London side clung on to record a much-needed victory.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Dimitar Berbatov (Fulham): The Bulgarian opened the scoring and brought a touch of class and calm to proceedings throughout the match.
West Brom: Foster 5, Jones 8, McAuley 6, Tamas 5, Ridgewell 5, Mulumbu 7, Brunt 6, Gera 5, Morrison 6, Fortune 6, Lukaku 7. Subs: Long 7, Odemwingie 6, Thorne 6.
Fulham: Stockdale 7, Riether 6, Hughes 6, Hangeland 6, Briggs 5, Sidwell 6, Karagounis 6, Dejagah 7, Kacaniklic 7, Ruiz 7, Berbatov 8. Subs: Rodallega 7, Senderos N/A.
- Sports & Recreation
- West Bromwich Albion
- Dimitar Berbatov
- Aaron Hughes