Fulham brush past Bolton
Fulham heaped more misery on beleaguered Bolton boss Owen Coyle with a comfortable 2-0 victory in their Premier League encounter at Craven Cottage.
Clint Dempsey handed the Cottagers a 32nd minute lead with a deft header, and two minutes later Bryan Ruiz produced an audacious chip to double the hosts' lead and leave the despondent Trotters utterly shell-shocked.
It was an insipid showing from the visitors, and Fulham's two-goal advantage never looked in the slightest danger of being eroded as Bolton were plunged into further trouble at the foot of the Premier League table. Towards the end, a 'Coyle Out' banner was unfurled among the travelling supporters, reflecting growing disaffection with the Bolton manager.
Fulham were without Bobby Zamora after the striker failed a late fitness test due to a medial ligament problem and was replaced in attack by Andrew Johnson as Martin Jol made seven changes, while his counterpart Coyle drafted in Marcos Alonso, Fabrice Muamba and Nigel Reo-Coker after Bolton's 2-1 defeat to Aston Villa last weekend.
Fulham seized the initiative from the outset with slick passing and a three-pronged front line which wreaked havoc in the Bolton half as the visitors were unable to settle into the match.
The hosts could have been in front in ninth minute as Johnson played a sharp one-two with Dempsey to get in behind Knight, but his shot drifted agonisingly wide of the far post as Jussi Jaaskelainen rushed out to pressurise the forward.
Brede Hangeland certainly should have given his side the lead in the 19th minute as Danny Murphy whipped over a devilish delivery from a corner out on the left, but the Norwegian could only head wide after towering above both Zat Knight and Gary Cahill to win the header.
But just after the half hour mark Fulham were in front in clinical fashion as the ebullient Ruiz hared down the right and whipped over a pinpoint delivery with his left foot, and Dempsey got in front of his marker to glance a precise header beyond Jaaskelainen into the far corner of the net.
Two minutes later, Fulham had doubled their lead as Ruiz and Dempsey switched roles: the American slipped an incisive through ball into the path of Ruiz, who showed remarkable composure to execute an exquisite chip over the head of the onrushing Jaaskelainen to get on the scoresheet.
Bolton did muster fleeting forays into the Fulham half, and could have reduced the deficit just before the break as Reo-Coker forced his way to the right byline and cut the ball back to Mark Davies, but the midfielder's shot was tame and straight at David Stockdale.
Coyle acted swiftly at half-time and introduced Chris Eagles at the expense of the ineffectual Darren Pratley in midfield, but Bolton's record of having lost all 12 of their previous league matches this season in which they have conceded the opening goal did not instil confidence of a comeback.
Ruiz was a persistent threat for the Cottagers in attack, and he looked set to double his tally in the 53rd minute as the ball broke loose to him inside the Bolton box, only for Gary Cahill to make an impeccable challenge.
Bolton skipper Kevin Davies was withdrawn before the hour mark after an inauspicious showing, and Bolton only created a chance minutes later as a result of Hangeland uncharacteristically dallying inside the Fulham box with Muamba unable to capitalise with a poor shot straight at Stockdale.
Fulham continued to dominate proceedings, and it was almost three as Johnson drove down the right and drilled a stunning ball across the six-yard box, but Dempsey could not quite bundle the ball home at the back post following a desperate lunge.
The visitors conjured up a paucity of openings and displayed a startling lack of urgency or resolve late on as Fulham looked the hungrier and more committed of the two sides throughout, and it was a despondent set of travelling supporters who trooped away from west London.
Bolton have now lost 18 of their last 21 Premier League matches as Coyle comes under further pressure following a torrid run of results, while the rejuvenated Fulham climb the table in the wake of their Europa League exit in midweek.