West Bromich Albion 1-2 Fulham
CRISIS, what crisis? The green shoots clearly visible against Swansea on Saturday – even in defeat – were no mirage.
A seventh goal of the season from Dimitar Berbatov – who put on a masterclass in the second half - and a superb winner from Alex Kacaniklic (pictured) gave the Whites their second away win of the campaign and ended a dismal sequence of one win in 12 games.
The return of Bryan Ruiz has inspired Berbatov to get back to his imperious best, and a win like this, against one of the season's high achievers so far, points to better days ahead.
Martin Jol was still without Mark Schwarzer, Mahamadou Diarra or Mladen Petric, yet his team still looked polished and calm.
The occasion looked likely to lapse into a comatose in the first half, which was hardly surprising, given the early start time on New Year's Day.
But that suited Fulham just fine, as they set about draining the life out of home ambitions.
They monopolised the ball for lengthy spells, reducing a normally vibrant Hawthorns into such a hush that bellowing players could be heard as if we were all on Hackney Marshes. Or somewhere even quieter.
Fulham looked brighter and sharper, while Albion were guilty of the misplaced passes you would associate with a late night reveller.
Neither side was looking particularly dangerous but then, five minutes from the break, Berbatov spread a ball out wide to Ashkan Dejagah and raced forward to sidefoot home a return pass.
It was fitting that the goal had its origins in Giorgos Karagounis winning possession just outside the area. The Greek had a tidy game and epitomised Fulham's calm start to the game.
Berbatov was a logical scorer, having seen plenty of the ball in that first half and having also gone close to opening the scoring after half an hour when Albion skipper Chris Brunt made a hash of a back pass and the Bulgarian wafted a clumsy shot over the bar.
Albion's imagination stretched no further than long balls to Chelsea loanee Romelu Lukaku in that first period, but four minutes into the second half, the Belgian was on target from close range to make it 1-1.
Lukaku looked offside when he turned in a cross from Billy Jones, who had sold Matthew Briggs a dummy to get outside the left back, but the linesman decided the striker was level with play.
Moments later and it was almost 2-1 when the rejuvenated goalscorer cracked a shot against a post – Fulham suddenly looking vulnerable, and Albion awake.
Within moments, West Brom had another great chance to go in front as Lukaku raced onto a through ball by Youssouf Mulumbu, and fired goalwards. David Stockdale got his hand to it, but Zoltan Gera angled a follow up against a post and it needed Aaron Hughes to head off the line after Chris Brunt picked up the pieces with a goalbound effort.
It looked only a matter of time before the home side's momentum would tell, and yet, in the next moment, Ruiz floated a delicious long ball up to Kacaniklic and the young Swede's superb first touch took out two defenders on the edge of the area, as well as the on-rushing Ben Foster in the Albion goal.
A simple turn and the vacant net was beckoning.
Lukaku did go close again before the end, flashing a header just wide, but Fulham controlled the final quarter, the ball drawn to Berbatov's magnetic boot. This was an impressive display.
Line-up: Stockdale; Riether, Hangeland, Hughes, Briggs; Dejagah, Karagounis (Rodallega 76), Sidwell, Kacaniklic; Ruiz, Berbatov (Senderos 90). Subs not used: Somogyi, Baird, Kasami, Richardson, Frei. Attendance: 25,436