That was exactly what Fulham needed. They were crisp and competent and occasionally imaginative and that was enough to beat a decidedly baggy West Brom outfit.
90 + 1 min:
Wonderful run by Jones, who jinked past two defenders in the box and then saw Hughes clear his shot-cum-cross off the line!
At least three more minutes ...
This really is slack from WBA. First Thorne is dispossessed by Sidwell in midfield, then Berbatov and Dejagah are allowed to amble their way into the box. At least Foster was bothered enough to save Dejagah's shot.
Lukaku rises above Hughes but nods wide from a corner.
Long runs past Briggs and all the way out of play.
WBA change: Brunt off, Thorne on.
Intricate interplay between Lukaku and Morrison before the Belgian fires the ball low and hard into the six-yard box. Stockdale pounces on it.
Odemwingie slides an inviting ball into the box but only Long was in there and it went just behind him.
Dejagah drives wide from 20 yards.
Tamas awkwardly slices Riether's cross behind for a corner. Ruiz delivers, Ridegwell nuts away. Fulham regain possession and Ruiz dashes into the box before going down under a challenge by Mulumbu. 'No foul' says the ref via the medium of two outstretched arms.
Rodallega's first shot sails into the stands from 28 yards.
Fulham change: Rodallega on, Karagounis off.
Morrison's cross flies across the face of goal. Long retrieves it and sends the ball back in for Lukaku, who nods inches wide.
Berbatov shunts Tamas after being clipped on the ankles by the Baggy, then complains to the ref that the foul went unpunished. He's been angry all day, Berbatov, primed to explode.
Hangeland forced to head behind as WBA shovel on the pressure.
Berbatov vents his fury as Sidwell delays a through-pass so long that the Bulgarian is offside when it eventually arrives. That was a prime opportunity to seal this match.
A lovely flowing move by West Brom ends in frustration when Morrison can't collect a well-weighted pass from Long.
The boos have returned to the Hawthorns, as the home fans are audibly displeased by the downturn in their team's play. Clarke decides its time to make changes: Fortuné and Gera off, Long and Odemwingie on.
The vim that characterised WBA's start to the second half has subsided and there now seems a risk of them relapsing into the first-half form. Fulham are beginning to ping the ball about again ...
GOAL! WBA 1-2 Fulham (Kacaniklic 58')
Well, there was no sign of that coming! WBA appear to have got carried away with their bright opening to the second period and completely forget that Fulham might pose a threat too. Ruiz sends a pass from midfield to Kacaniklic, who took it down on the edge of the box, swiveled past the Jones and McAuley and then stroked it past Foster into the net!
Five seconds of mayhem in the Fulham box! First Stockdale had to repel another Lukaku effort, then Brunt struck the post and finally Hughes had to head a Morison drive off the line!
Unlike in the first period, WBA are now pressing Fulham frantically, as if fearing another thrashing from the naughty stick.
Lukaku almost plunders a second! He collected the ball on the edge of the area, held off Aaron Hughes like he was brushing past a toddler and then lashed a shot off the outside of the post from 15 yards.
Some Fulham fans are claiming that Lukaku was offside for his goal but I disagree. It's true he was ahead of the last defenders but he looked level with the crosser.
GOAL! WBA 1-1 Fulham (Lukaku 48')
The naught stick worked! Fortuné won the ball in midfield and then swept it wide to Jones, whose quick shimmy threw Briggs with laughable ease. Jones then fired a low cross to Lukaku, who tapped into the net from five yards.
Berbatov is down injured. The fearsome Bulgarian dished out some tasty treatment himself in the first half and a life of brutality caught up with him just now as Fortuné inadvertently shunted his face with his shoulder. Berbatov's a tropper, though, and rejoins the actions with a minute.
Steve Clarke has not made any changes during half-time. Could it be that he got so carried away administering the naughty stick that he clean forgot about substitutions?
That was dire from WBA, and nothing more than decent from Fulham, who by dint of being broadly competent and interested deserve to be in front. And an unsuitably fine goal it was too, Berbatov bringing some class to bear on otherwise pedestrian proceedings. The second half has got to be better.
Fortuné and Jones combine down the right before the full-backs hoiks in a cross that Fulham clear easily.
A cross from the left by a WBA player - sorry, I failed to spot who because the home team's lethargy has contaminated me - Mulumbu nodded wide from seven yards.
No sign of a response from WBA so far. Steve Clarke needs to go monster at half-time to bring a bit a beast out of his team. Could also do with sticking on Long and Odemwingie.
GOAL! WBA 0-1 Fulham (Berbatov 38')
Fulham finally take advantage of WBA's sloth! It came from a counter-attack, meaning the hosts were actually applying some gentle pressure, but their move broke down and Berbatov fizzed the ball to Dejagah on the right before gliding into the box to receive the return and drive it into the net from 16 yards. Foster got a hand to it and might have stopped it on a more alert day.
A Morrison snapshot is deflected wide for a corner. But that corner yields nothing, other than a freekick for Fulham after McAuley nudges the keeper. "Why can’t West Brom make shirts where you can actually see their squad numbers?" storms Rasmus Löb. "I can pretty much never tell who is who when I watch them." You need to become an expert in identifying players by their gaits. Brunt, for instance, has a slightly constipated stride, whereas Morrison's careful lope has a hint of mountain goat about it.
Riether scurries down the right and sends and overhits his cross. "What message do you think Berbatov has on the shirt under his jersey?" wonders JR in Illinois. "For some reason I like to imagine it's a shirt with a black and white photo of Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd." It could be that, or a Depeche Mode tribute, perhaps accompanied by a slogan such as "I just can't get enough (passes)". Or, if things continue like this, a simple "buy me please" message?
Oh Berbatov! Brunt made a dog's dinner of an attempted interception, allowing Dejagah's pass to run to Berbatov, who, rather than take the ball into the box, elected to shoot from 20 yards ... and smashed a woeful effort into Villa Park.
Sidwell makes a crucial tackle to stop Lukaku from getting off a shot after a barnstorming run by the Belgian into the box. From the ensuing corner Tamas heads a couple of yards wide.
Fulham clear the first corner but soon afterwards Hangeland concedes another one, needlessly heading behind when Stockdale was about to pluck a misdirected cross out of the air. Nowt of note comes of the Norwegian's negligence.
WBA are starting to perk up. A sweeping cross-field ball finds Fortuné, who takes it down nicely on the right, charges into the area and then unleashes a fearsome shot that Hangeland deflects behind for a corner.
Berbatov, whose frustration is mounting, clumps into Ridgewell to concede another freekick, this time on the left. Brunt swings it in, Fulham nod away.
Foster botches a goal kick, sending it straight to Karagounis 40 yards out. An inaccurate delivery but a precise summary of WBA's play so far. Fulham really have to start taking advantage of this because they are unlikely to get many better invitations to beat a team this term.
Berbatov, the notorious Bulgarian butcher, chops down Mulmbu to concede a freekick wide on the right. Brunt swings it in, McAuley heads wide. So in their first sign of life, WBA come closer to scoring than Fulham managed in 17 minutes of impotent dominance.
Fulham remain well on top, the stats say they have 66%. The stats do not tell us when they are going to do anything meaningful with it.
Brunt heads a Fulham corner clear at the near post. The first rumbles of discontent begin to be heard from the home fans. They paid money to watch this and must be thinking that would have been better spent in the sales on, say, a top-end cravate.
This is all too easy for Fulham and they really should be making more of the fact that West Brom are sleepwalking. There is very little pressure on the visitors when they have the ball and their runs are being tracked only in token fashion ... yet Fulham still haven't managed a shot on target, Sidwell's blaster from 20 yards just now being the closest they have come. And it was 10 yards over.
West Brom fans mark the eighth minute by breaking into sustained applause. Apparently it's in tribute to Aston Villa's recent tonking by Chelsea. Gotta love that!
WBA's first attempt to infiltrate Fulham ends with Lukaku lurching offside. Apparently the Fulham team were kept awake last night by boozed-up revelers outside their hotel. The way things have started here, I'm wondering if those revelers weren't the West Brom team? "Any chance of a somewhat cliched but still good New Years Resolutions riff?" pleads Ryan Dunne. "My main New Years Resolution is to crowbar in more Glorious Glasgow Rangers references into MBMs. Hope I can rely on you to not Trample on My Dream!" Anyone else want to give a mention to their favourite fictional team?
Loose stuff from the Baggie so far. Fulham are zipping the ball about impressively. A porlonged period of possession concludes with Karagounis picking out Kacanilic, whose cross from the left is nutted clear.
Fulham get the game going and quickly work it to Berbatov. By 'work it', I mean hoof in the general direction of the Bulgarian, who shows uncharacteristic dynamism to get on the end of it and then uncharacteristic oafishness to miscontrol. Difficult to get everything with him.
1 min to kick-off
"The big thing about him is he's big". You can't argue with Sky gantryman's description appraisal of Romelu Lukaku.
Here we go then, off on another lap of the sun. Top spinning to you. 2013 is going to bring relegation for three teams, the most costly relegation in Premier League history at that, and Fulham need to get their act together if they want to avoid going down with QPR and Reading. That would be a shame for a fine club and one of the greatest chairmen of the Premier League era but the team have served up some wretched gruel recently and one win in twelve has been their just desserts.
But Bryan Ruiz's return is good news for Fulham and fans of fun football in general, so if they can get the ball to him and Dimitar Berbatov, they might just serve up a feast. Getting the ball to them will be tough, with Youssouf Mulumbu returning for West Brom. My first prediction of the new year, then, is that WBA will win 3-1. My second prediction of the new year is that my first one will be wrong.
WBA: Foster, Jones, McAuley, Tamas, Ridgewell, Brunt, Mulumbu, Fortuné, Morrison, Gera, Lukaku.
Fulham: Stockdale; Riether, Hughes, Hangeland, Briggs; Dejagah, Sidwell, Karagouinis, Kacaniklic; Ruiz; Berbatov
Paul will be here from 12.15pm. In the meantime, take a look at Martin Jol's thoughts on the January transfer window:
Martin Jol insisted Fulham do not need to spend their way out of trouble in January after another bad result sucked his side closer to the relegation zone. This defeat by Swansea extended the Cottagers' miserable run to one win in 12 and left them four points above the bottom three.
Fulham look in need of reinforcements but, though Jol will try to dip into the transfer market when the window reopens on Tuesday, he is confident the return of injured players will be the real catalyst for a revival. Bryan Ruiz, in his first start for six weeks, showed with a man-of-the-match performance on Saturday how much Fulham had missed him.
And Jol hopes the imminent recovery of Mahamadou Diarra, Mladen Petric and Damien Duff will have the same effect. "If players come back from injury, I think that will freshen up the squad as well," said Jol, who admitted the trio were unlikely to return for Tuesday's trip to West Bromwich Albion. "If we can do something in the market, we will try to do that. But it's not easy. You know as well as I do that clubs will wait and wait until you have to pay the maximum price and we will not do that."