Premier League - Pog strikes as Fulham beat Stoke
The former Zenit St Petersburg target man was the best player on the park until injury forced him off on the hour, opening the scoring and his Whites account with a fine 17th-minute goal as Stoke for once found themselves bullied by a big man.
Clint Dempsey’s long-range effort went in off keeper Thomas Sorensen via the woodwork to give the hosts a 2-0 lead by half time and, despite a better second-half performance that saw Ryan Shawcross pull one back and the hosts withstand a late barrage, the Potters slumped to a fourth league defeat on the trot.
The result means Fulham move above Stoke on goal difference into 12th place, behind Swansea by a single goal.
Fulham dominated possession in the first half but had a greater cutting edge than previously thanks in part to the bustling, alpha-male performance from new signing Pogrebnyak.
The Russia international, whose debut was delayed as Fulham awaited international clearance for his January signing from Stuttgart, was an aggressive, hard-working handful from the off.
He was denied an early strike on goal by Matthew Upson’s block, while Thomas Sorensen prevented him from a tap-in off Damien Duff’s low cross on the quarter hour.
Soon afterwards he broke the deadlock in style when, after John Arne Riise’s shot was blocked, he picked up the ricochet and fired a rasping drive into the top left.
Defensively they were suspect too and it was 2-0 before the half-hour as they backed off Dempsey, whose swerving long-range strike hit the bar and rebounded in off the helpless Sorensen.
Fulham were rampant, Shawcross doing well to intercept Pogrebnyak’s low cross but almost netting another own-goal, while Sorensen saved well from Duff after the Irishman beat the offside trap.
Stoke had a half-chance through Jonathan Walters’s header wide from a corner, one of his few acts in a match stranded on the wing.
The visitors looked more urgent in the second half but still toiled: their best chance was when Crouch failed to control a suspect defensive header from Aaron Hughes that had put him clean through.
Davies had come on for Pogrebnyak, who seemed to turn his ankle and was withdrawn on the hour mark, Martin Jol no doubt hoping he returns in time for the West London derby with Queens Park Rangers.
Pulis had given up on the Crouch-Jones combination, bringing Ricardo Fuller into the fray: the Jamaican’s pace was used to good effect as he picked up on a Murphy error to race clear and win a corner.
That set piece saw Stoke pull one back, as Jermaine Pennant - another sub - swung in a superb corner that Shawcross headed across Schwarzer and inside a far post that had been neglected by Murphy, whose excellent first-half performance was negated by two alarming lapses that saw him swiftly taken off.
Fulham were getting sloppy: a needless free-kick given away by Brede Hangeland resulted in a Fuller flick-on towards Crouch, who poked over from close range when he should have equalised.
That ball was again put in by Pennant, whose delivery was causing serious problems: another right-wing free-kick skimmed off Walters’s head but, as it landed to him in a flash, Upson could only put wide.
Fulham had all hands to the pump and it was starting to look worryingly like they would capitulate as they did against West Brom last time out, not for the first time this season as their Europa League exit highlighted.
Stoke sensed blood and they pumped it high into the box as often as possible, while Pennant was a repeated threat from wide.
But for all their pressure Fulham had the best later chances, as Sorensen bravely saved at Dempsey’s feet following an error from Upson reminiscent of his boo-boo against Germany at the 2010 World Cup.
Five minutes added time were signalled but again it was Fulham who went closest as, with the last kick of the game, Dempsey rolled his finish against the post after beating the walkabout Sorensen to a high ball.
Fulham move on to 30 points and a goal difference of -5, just short of 11th-placed Swansea after their 3-2 defeat at home to Norwich with Stoke on the same number of points but a goal deficit of -14.