Etherington sinks Europa League finalists Fulham

LONDON, May 5, 2010 (AFP) - Stoke dampened Fulham's spirits ahead of the Europa League final as Matthew Etherington's late strike secured a 1-0 win at Craven Cottage on Wednesday.

Etherington's goal meant Tony Pulis's side played the party poopers in Fulham's last home game before they head off to Hamburg to face Atletico Madrid in the final of Europe's second tier competition next week.

Stoke's English Etherington (out of picture) scores a goal during their English Premier League football match against Fulham in London, on May 5, 2010. AFP PHOTO

The Cottagers have enjoyed a fairytale run in Europe this season but they were brought back down to earth by gritty Stoke and will be looking for a positive performance at Arsenal on Sunday to go into the Atletico clash on a high.

After resting most of his stars for Sunday's win over West Ham in ther aftermath of their Europa League win over Hamburg, Roy Hodgson opted to restore his senior players to the starting line-up, but leading scorer Bobby Zamora was still sidelined with an Achilles injury.

Fulham's board have been chasing extra tickets for their supporters for the final and there was a feeling Hodgson's players had their minds on the Atletico clash as well during a lacklustre first-half.

Damien Duff had Fulham's first chance but he dragged a volley wide from Simon Davies' cross.

Duff was involved again with a neat pass to Zoltan Gera, only for the Hungarian to scoop his shot over from 10 yards.

With Stoke unable to bludgeon Fulham into submission with their usual barrage of long balls and set-pieces, there was little to keep the crowd interested and it took until the 38th minute for either side to get a shot on target.

Clint Dempsey slipped a pass through to Gera, who fired his shot straight at Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic to sum up a tepid first half.

Hodgson was forced to take off Duff as the Irish winger finished the first half clutching his leg and he sent on Erik Nevland, who was making his last home appearance for the club before moving to Viking Stavanger.

Stoke posed more of a threat after the break and Ricardo Fuller glanced a header wide from a Rory Delap throw.

The Cottagers came close themselves through Dickson Etuhu's header and a Dempsey shot which Begovic push wide.

Etuhu then climbed well to beat Delap from a Danny Murphy corner but Begovic was equal to the midfielder's header.

But it was Stoke who stole the points in the 83rd minute when Fuller's cross skimmed off Tuncay's back to fall to Etherington, who smashed home off the woodwork.

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