"We're all going on a European trip, a European trip" sang the Cottage in unison on Saturday. Though a tad premature with 4 games to play, 3 of which are against teams higher placed than us, a Europa Cup spot has become a realistic target for a Fulham team maturing with every match.
We will however need to lift our game over the coming month to make the European dream come true. Today Fulham did only what they needed to do against a team who, though spirited, were lacking in class. The Cottagers started energetically, and were clearly the better team in the first half. However we seemed more than happy to maintain possession (depending on which report you believe, 60-68% for the game), passing the ball backwards and sidewards at every opportunity, rather than going forward.
Unfortunately the wealth of possession resulted in few attacks on the Stoke goal until 29 minutes in Nevland burst away on the break. A good one-two with Andy Johnson and Fulham went 1-0 up - a justified early lead given the first half dominance. Another opportunity went begging a short time later when a well worked free kick lead to Etuhu with the ball at his feet in the box and the goal beckoning. Not surprisingly the ball missed by a mile from point blank, but it was good to see him venture forward for once! Next time though can we please have that boy Client Dempsey on the end of the play? Word on the street is that he can score with his left, he can score with his right.
At the other end, Stoke were playing mainly long balls but as has been the case all season, Hughes and Hangeland dealt with most of it comfortably. Their clinical performance up back meant that Schwarzer had quiet day at the office - and with no shots on target from Stoke he had plenty of time to work on his tan in the bright April sunshine. Stoke's much vaunted long throwing game failed to materialise, as time and time again they managed to find the head of Hangeland. In all fairness though, he is a rather large target!
The second half saw Stoke throw everything at the Cottagers, but the lack of quality up front really showed. The away fans really got behind their team, and I have to say were easily the most vocal and loudest of the teams to make the trip to west London this season. However, it wasn't enough to inspire their team, and in the end Fulham held on for the three points they deserved.
Fulham have been lucky all season with injuries, being able to put close to our best 11 out in the majority of games. With Zamora and Johnson both off injured in the first half and Konchesky in the second, 7th spot is really hanging in the balance. Hopefully nothing too serious, as our depth isn't great and those on the bench have had little game time over the course of the season.
Another big game this week with the derby at Chelsea – if you were to offer me 3 points on the weekend or a European spot I'd have a very tough choice to make!