CHARLIE ADAM made it a home double by firing home the winner for the second successive Barclays Premier League match at the Britannia Stadium . . . as Stoke City overcame a dangerous Fulham side to claim a hard-earned victory.
The Scottish international, who grabbed his first goal for the club in the win over Queens Park Rangers a fortnight ago, did the trick again as he swivelled to score in the 26th minute after a neat knock down from striker Peter Crouch.
City had some anxious moments in the closing stages, especially when Dimitar Berbatov forced a fine save out of Asmir Begovic, but that was only due to the fact that they missed a number of excellent opportunities to stretch their lead.
Central defenders Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross both went close with headers from set-pieces; Shawcross rattling the bar in the closing stages of the first half, while Huth forced an excellent reflex save out of Mark Schwarzer.
The victory means that City have taken seven points from a possible nine in their last three games to lift them up to eleventh place.
As expected, Pulis handed the vacant full-back position in the absence of Wilkinson to Shotton, but the Fenton-born defender began the game on the more familiar right hand side with Cameron switching across to the left side.
In driving rain, it was Fulham who began the game in the ascendency and Greek international Karagoudis had Begovic diving low to his right to cover a long range shot which fortunately for the Potters flashed wide of the target.
There was another scare for City moments later when Cameron played a backpass to Begovic which the Bosnian completely missed, but with the ball rolling towards the goal-line, Shawcross was on hand to clear the danger.
After conceding a lot of possession to the visitors in the opening stages, City mounted their first period of sustained pressure on the Fulham goal and really should have taken the lead in the fifteenth minute from a corner.
Fulham had been forced to defend resolutely when Whelan’s corner from the right caused them some concern, but the Etherington’s delivery from the left hung in the air invitingly for Huth to meet it with a firm header.
Many supporters were up out of their seats to celebrate a goal, but much to their frustration, the header was off target.
It gave City the encouragement to pin Fulham back as they probed for another opening, and although Crouch’s astute knock down didn’t find an incoming team-mate, Adam regained possession to hook his shot over.
The pressure was eventually rewarded in the 26th minute with a well-orchestrated goal as Adam struck for the second successive home game following his winner in the Queens Park Rangers match a fortnight ago.
Shotton, bursting down the right on the overlap, sent over a cross to the far post where Crouch’s knock down picked out Adam and he had the time to swivel before drilling a low shot past the helpless Schwarzer.
The Potters went in search of a second as they extended a Fulham defence lacking the commanding presence of Hangeland and their vulnerability to balls that were lifted into the box was evident on a number of occasions.
When Cameron found himself on the edge of the box latching onto a deep cross from Shottion, his lay-off was fired low and hard by Whelan, gathering pace off the wet surface but it flew wide of Schwarzer’s right hand post.
City should have gone further ahead in their next attack when a corner whipped over from the right by Whelan found Shawcross rising to meet it with a powerful header which crashed against the crossbar with Schwarzer beaten.
The fact that the Potters were not more comfortably positioned in the game meant that there was some anxiety whenever Fulham broke out of defence and Petric gave them a warning just before the interval by going close.
The Croatian managed to slip his marker at the near post when Riether sent over a low cross, but his first time shot failed to trouble Begovic.
No sooner had the second half got underway than City had wasted another golden opportunity as Etherington latched onto an Adam pass to deliver a cross which Schwarzer could only push out as he dived off his line.
Walters, aware of Whelan’s presence on the edge of the box, teed up his Republic of Ireland team-mate by laying the ball into his path, but his shot was lifted over the bar when he really should have hit the target.
It gave the Potters early momentum at the start of the second half to pile more pressure on the Fulham defence.
When Crouch shielded a ball into the box and then laid it off into the path of Adam, his fiercely struck shot, which appeared to be heading for the far corner, cannoned off a Fulham defender and flew over the bar.
There was more frustration for the Potters as two successive corners sent over by Etherington created excellent chances.
Huth met the first one with a close range header that was tipped over the bar by Schwarzer at full stretch and then fellow central defender Shawcross went close with a looping header at the near post when he escaped his marker.
The fragile nature of City’s lead was emphasised again when Berbatov sprung to life as he collected a return pass from Duff and fired a shot towards the far corner, but Begovic was equal to it as he moved smartly to his right.
City had introduced fresh legs in the shape of Kightly in place of Etherington and he was soon in the action as he burst down the left before cutting inside to curl a shot towards the far corner that was only fractionally wide.
Pulis made two further changes as he sent on Jones and Whitehead for Crouch and Adam in the closing stages of the game.
There a couple more anxious moments as Berbatov fired a low cross into the box which was scrambled clear and then he tried a cheeky backheel when he got on the end of a ball whipped into the box by Duff.
City thought they had settled the issue on a counter attack as Kightly released Jones and he slid his left foot shot under Schwarzer, but the assistant referee’s flag for offside cut short all the celebrations.