Dimitar Berbatov was once again the key in the 2-1 win over Newcastle, Fulham manager Martin Jol said.
Playing in a slightly deeper position behind the striker, the classy Bulgarian exhibited numerous tricks and flicks which wowed the Craven Cottage crowd and threatened to open the door to goal for his team-mates as Fulham ended a winless run of seven matches in the Premier League.
Steve Sidwell gave the hosts the lead on 19 minutes with a strike which deflected off Mike Williamson, but Hatem Ben Arfa equalised in spectacular fashion before Hugo Rodallega’s header sealed the points.
Yet despite not troubling the scoresheet on Monday, Berbatov was the first name on Jol’s lips as he contemplated his team’s success.
“He’s a quality player, and the good thing about my squad is they realise he’s an outstanding player, and when Bryan Ruiz is not playing, he is the one who is keeping us together,” the Dutchman told reporters.
“He covered more ground than ever before, so he was probably a bit tired when we needed him to score goals, but he didn’t moan and I’m very satisfied he is a No.10 as well.
“When Bryan played, we scored three against Arsenal, five against Norwich, three against West Brom.
“So I was happy that Berbatov was able to fill in that role, and he was vital. He didn’t score, and that was disappointing, but he linked us up and kept the team together. I was very happy with him.
“For me the most important thing is that after losing Dempsey, Dembele, Danny Murphy and Bryan Ruiz, I’m very happy he joined this club because otherwise we could have had a problem.”
Even as he reflected on a fifth Premier League defeat in seven which leaves his side just four points above the relegation zone, Newcastle manager Alan Pardew could not resist paying his own tribute to Berbatov.
“He seems to pluck everything out of the sky, everything seems to die on his toe,” he said.
“He was a real problem. We did a lot better against him in the second half, but he’s a class act.
“When he’s in the mood and the TV cameras are here, he’s a problem.”
While Pardew insists that his side is improving, he remains concerned about the lack of results away from home.
“I’m worried in that we’re not picking up enough points, and although the performances are much improved, we haven’t got enough points on the board,” he said.
“We can’t concede soft goals at this level. To win we had to score three goals at Fulham, and it’s very difficult to do that.
“Our attacking play was much improved, but we’ve got no points to show for it.
“We need to get back that resilience we had last year away from home. I think that’s missing.”
Newcastle skipper Fabricio Collocini had a header cleared off the line as well as striking the bar with a sensational curling attempt and Pardew believed his team deserved a point from the game.
He continued: “The first 20 minutes caught us out a little bit. Hatem [Ben Arfa] struggled with the pace of coming back into the team, but just before the end of the half we started coming back into the game.
“At the start of the second half we had the game by the scruff of the neck, but the goal we gave away was a soft one. We gave away a cheap free-kick and then didn’t defend the situation well at all. We’ve come out losing a game we should have got something out of.
“We’ve got a tough run of games, and we’ve put ourselves under pressure. But we can’t turn back the clock, that’s where it is.”