Fulham kept calm and passed him the ball on their way to victory. - Ian Walton
Despite dominating the possession early on, Fulham only found a break through from a counter when West Brom improved. The Baggies attacked from the wide areas; Lukaku posed a great threat. Fulham finds winner with a bit of directness.
On paper, both West Brom and Fulham lined up in a similar formation: 4-2-3-1/4-4-1-1. Romelu Lukaku leading the home side's attack with James Morrison operating in the hole; Dimitar Berbatov and Bryan Ruiz doing the same for Fulham. It was a different story on the pitch however.
The away side started the game on the front foot dominating possession. They played without a real focal point in attack. Berbatov dropped back into midfield time and time again as he rotated the role with Ruiz centrally. This meant Fulham outnumbered West Brom in midfield and could build attack through short passing.
If possession is the profit of playing without a focal point, lack of penetration is the price Martin Jol's side had to pay. West Brom kept a good defensive shape, and without any Fulham attacking player looking to get behind the defense, the Cottagers failed to threaten Ben Foster's goal. Despite out-passing West Brom 236 to 143 in the first half, 4 of the 5 Fulham goal attempts came from outside the box.
For the home side, their sluggish start meant that they had to adapt to Fulham's dominance. Morrison had to dropped deep into midfield joining the five-men defensive line ahead of the back four. Thus, their shape resembled a 4-5-1 more so than it did a 4-2-3-1. Lukaku stayed high up the pitch, always looking to run in behind the Fulham's defense. The young Belgium was very isolated but always looked a threat.
Considering this pattern of play in the early stages of the game, it was ironic that Fulham got their opening goal from a counter attack during a better spell of possession from West Brom. Steve Clarke's men improved around the 25th minute: their passing was better and their movement more fluid. But they also left more spaces behind their defense.
When a West Brom's attacking corner broke into the feet of Berbatov, the silky Bulgarian picked out Ashkan Dejagah on the right wing with a brilliant long pass. With Ruiz pushing the West Brom defense centrally, Berbatov had plenty of space to finish Dejagah's low cut back.
Three key point from the first half: (1) Fulham playing without a focal point of attack; (2) West Brom defending with a 4-5-1 with isolated Lukaku up front; (3) Fulham scores from a counter attack.
As they did against Manchester United on the previous game, West Brom started the second half as the much better team, and pinned Fulham back in their own half. The Baggies' route to the Fulham's goal in the second half was obvious. They built up their attack down their right flank with the fullback Billy Jones bombing forward and combing well with Marc-Antoine Fortune in the wide areas. The Lukaku equalizer followed this attacking pattern.
Fortune dribbled past some Fulham midfielders before freeing Jones down the right flank. The fullback turned his counter part, Liam Ridgewell*, inside out with some skills and set up Lukaku for an easy tap in.
West Brom would continue to create chance after chance, battering the Fulham goals with shots from all angles. But they failed to take advantage of these opportunities and they were punished soon after.
The same mechanism of playing without a focal attacking point is applied here. The "main striker" Berbatov was floating between the West Brom defensive lines, which left the high central position open for Fulham left winger Alexander Kacaniklic to dash into. Ruiz provided a lovely assist from the halfway line; Kacaniklic turned skillfully before putting Fulham ahead with a neat finish.
The difference between this attacking play and the general approach Fulham employed in the first half was directness. While the patient buildup play in the first half lacked penetration, this direct approach allowed Fulham to get behind the West Brom defense quickly and it proved to be effective.
With his team needing to get back into the game, Clarke made two substitutions at the 65th minute: Shane Long came on for Zoltan Gera; Peter Odemwingie for Fortune. The team also changed into an attacking 4-3-3: Lukaku and Odemwingie flanking Long left and right respectively. It was a good move. All three of these attacking players pushed ahead aggressively and pounded Fulham with plenty of crosses from the wide areas. But it wasn't enough to break down a resolute Fulham team who earned their only second victory on the road.
Three key points from the second half: (1) West Brom's attack down the right; (2) Fulham more direct; (3) West Brom's change to 4-3-3 and attacked from the flanks.
* Correction: Matthew Briggs