Pictures and analysis of West Brom 1 Fulham 2

This wasn’t the West Brom of 2012 - let’s hope it won’t be the West Brom of 2013.

This wasn’t the West Brom of 2012 - let’s hope it won’t be the West Brom of 2013.

The Baggies offered fleeting glimpses of this region’s ‘Team of the Year’ – not too difficult a title to claim amid such wretched fortunes for their neighbours – but it was difficult to argue the merit of Fulham’s victory.

For reasons lost to the mysteries of team sport, West Brom were everything they had not been during the previous calendar year which saw this team assemble 58 points from 40 Premier League games.

Lethargic, riddled with error and undermined by self-doubt, Albion allowed a Fulham team with one win in 12 games to dominate them far too easily in the opening half.

Briefly, they roused themselves to rattle Fulham after the break. But they were always running uphill after the complacency of that opening half and boss Steve Clarke will want a swift and telling response this weekend.

This is a West Brom side which has the potential to win a KO competition and the best of them all approaches with Saturday’s FA Cup opener at Queens Park Rangers.

It's a game Clarke’s side can obviously win and need to win. The club’s rise to Premier League stability ensures it has never been richer but the excitement of a meaningful Cup challenge is missing from the ledger.

However, you can bet that even a third round tie against opponents seemingly bound for relegation from this level will be squandered if West Brom turn up in the strangely listless mood which dominated their start to yesterday’s contest.

Clarke has been a major advocate of the rotation system and it has, by and large, served him well.

But since the high point of third place following victory at Sunderland, the scale of the changes has been aggravated by injuries and the case will now be made for too much disruption disturbing the team’s rhythm.

Having negotiated Saturday’s trip to Old Trafford with this game in mind, Clarke made five more changes in an strategy designed to execute the greater prospect of three points against Fulham.

But, for the second time this season, he will feel his team did not do themselves justice against Martin Jol’s side, 3-0 winners at Craven Cottage.

Despite the best efforts of the New Year’s Eve revellers in Birmingham, who had kept Jol’s players awake with the midnight fireworks over the Hyatt hotel, West Brom spent the opening half searching for someone to light their touchpaper.

It never emerged and Fulham, pushing and prodding the ball around Dimitar Berbatov’s mesmeric touch, eased their way into the game.

For more than half an hour, it failed to produce a telling finish but in the 40th minute, they swept out of defence to release Ashkan Dejagah, who stepped inside Liam Ridgewell and set up Berbatov to finish past goalkeeper Ben Foster.

The virtue of a more pressing game of a higher tempo was shown at the start of the second half as Youssouf Mulumbu urged his midfield forward.

Not only did West Brom strike an immediate equaliser through Romelu Lukaku after some splendid work by Billy Jones, but arguably could have sewn up the match in the 10 minutes which followed.

Romelu Lukaku might have done better than strike the outside of a post before Fulham survived a remarkable triple-decker. Once again Lukaku went charging clear.

Goalkeeper David Stockdale’s knee blocked his shot, the rebound flew to Zoltan Gera who drove a follow-up effort on to the post and, when that cannoned into his path, Chris Brunt saw Aaron Hughes head away his goal-bound drive.

Fulham were then rewarded for their stubborn resistance with a goal which had West Brom’s afternoon written all over it – Jones and Gareth McAuley caught by Alexander Kacaniklic arriving between them before he spun away to beat Foster.

Clarke rang the changes in  bringing on both Shane Long and Peter Odemwingie – players most of the Hawthorns would have preferred to see starting the game – but for once the impact of the substitutes was muted.

Jones and James Morrison nearly found an equaliser but, in truth, this was a deeply flawed opening to the New Year.

By Steve Madeley