Dominant performance from the Cottagers sees them fly into the top half of the table thanks to goals from Dempsey (2) and Hangeland making it a poor night for Owen Coyle's men
A stunning early goal from Clint Dempsey set the tone for an excellent evening for Fulham, which cruised to a 3-0 win over a lackluster Bolton side.
Dempsey’s second followed by a trademark Brede Hangeland headed goal was enough to complete a resounding victory Mark Hughes' hugely impressive team.
Both teams went into the clash at Craven Cottage looking like a mid-table finish was all they could hope for, although with every Premier League position counting for cash, there is always plenty of motivation right to the end of the season.
Fulham knew that it could jump from 14th to 9th with a win over the Trotters, whereas Bolton could move into a very impressive 7th spot with three points.
There were some surprises from the home side as far as team selection went as Mark Hughes left both Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson on the bench, preferring Eidur Gudjonhsen and Moussa Dembele in attack.
Bolton was without the impressive Daniel Sturridge, who was struggling with an ankle injury picked up against Arsenal at the weekend, as Kevin Davies and Johann Elmander resumed their partnership up front.
Bolton started much the brighter of the two teams and created the first good chance of the match after just 45 seconds after good work from Davies and Elmander fashioned an excellent chance for Fabrice Muamba inside the penalty area, but the England under-21 man hit his shot straight at Mark Schwarzer. Muamba isn’t used to scoring and you could tell there as he really should have done better.
Just a minute later Dempsey stung the hands of Jussi Jaaskelainen with a rasping drive from twenty yards and it looked like we really had a game on our hands.
With the game still not five minutes old, the third decent chance emerged and it was the best so far as Dempsey swung the ball in from the left to pick out a completely unmarked Gudjohnsen six yards out, but the Icelandic striker fluffed his lines and hit it high, wide and not very handsome.
It was a frenetic start which showed that both teams were very much going for all three points and not just winding down the season with their summer holidays on their minds.
The game quickly settled down to a more manageable pace, but the commitment was still very evident as tackles were flying in left, right and centre. Not that there were any dirty challenges, but there was no lack of passion from either side.
Neither side was dominating possession but it was the home side which was perhaps pushing forward more and it was Gudjohnsen who nearly got on the score sheet again as an excellent cross from Chris Baird was just flicked off the former Chelsea man’s boot by Gretar Steinsson.
The Cottagers didn’t have to wait long though as from the resulting corner the ball wasn’t cleared properly and it sat up nicely for Dempsey, who needed no second invitation to hit a flying volley into the back of the net. It was amazing technique from the American who showed great poise and created huge power with the volley which left Jaaskelainen no chance, it was a truly fantastic goal.
Fulham’s tails were up following the goal with Dempsey and then Carlos Salcido having producing long-range efforts that weren’t a million miles away.
The Cottagers were playing some lovely football on the deck as well as the class of players like Gudjohnsen and Simon Davies was showing with some delightful one touch play which nearly saw Dembele played in.
It was the Belgian that had the next proper chance of the game as Fulham pressed to double their advantage but Gary Cahill proved an ample distraction and his shot was poor and easily saved by Jaaskelainen.
It just seemed a matter of time until the home side got the second though as Gudjohnsen came as close as he could without hitting the net as he saw his delicate chip come back off the post. It turned out to be a fine save from Jaaskelainen who appeared to touch the effort just enough to divert it away from goal.
It really was all Fulham as it seemed to be wave after wave of attack on the visitors’ goal, but whilst ever the score remained just 1-0, Bolton was very much still in it, although the best effort it could conjure since the opening minute was a speculative effort from range from right-back Steinsson.
Fulham’s passing in the middle of the park was a joy to behold with Davies and Dempsey cutting inside and making the whole midfield impressively fluid. Dembele the latest to benefit from excellent build-up play, but his shot was deflected over.
Bolton showed that it can play as well though, and kept the Fulham defense awake as Matt Taylor was played in and found himself in a decent position in the box, but his shot was tame and smothered easily by Schwarzer.
Danny Murphy had been quiet but effective in the middle of midfield for the home team although he was made well aware he was part of a game as on 23 minutes he was caught in the middle of an aerial challenge with Muamba and Kevin Davies. The Fulham captain was understandably stunned, but seemed to be OK.
Bolton had been slowly coming back into the game as the half went on and was close to pinching an equalizer just before halftime when a headed through ball from Chung-Yong Lee was met on the volley by Tamir Cohen but Schwarzer was well placed to keep it out.
That was the last action of what was a thoroughly entertaining first half at Craven Cottage and the second 45 started off in equally pulsating fashion as Fulham hit the bar and then scored within five minutes.
Dembele was the one to crash the ball against the crossbar when his shot was crucially deflected by the onrushing Cahill, but it didn’t take long for the home side to go one better and hit the net.
Simon Davies drilled in a short corner across the Bolton penalty box which was really intelligently flicked on by Gudjohnsen with a back-heel into the path of Dempsey, who had the simple task of finishing from close range. It was exactly what Fulham deserved for its first-half performance and equally good start to the second and Bolton was reeling thanks to the big American’s double.
The Cottagers were still not happy with their lot as a really clever Murphy free-kick was played down the inside left channel for Dembele, who produced a lovely turn and got his shot away, but it flashed wide of the near post.
The confidence was clearly flowing through the Fulham ranks and it was not looking anything like a side that were flirting with relegation before this match. Its passing was crisp, it was playing some imaginative balls and its work rate was excellent.
Simon Davies was the next to come close as he cut in from the right flank and unleashed an effort at Jaaskelainen’s goal, but Zat Knight was there to make the block. The Welshman was looking dangerous every time he got on the ball and was giving Paul Robinson a lot to think about at left back for Bolton.
The away side was struggling to get hold of the ball or create anything. Its only chances seemed to be from set-plays, especially corner kicks, but the delivery from these was really poor from both Lee and Taylor who couldn’t seem to put a half decent cross in.
Murphy didn’t have that problem though as the England international pinged in a brilliant diagonal free-kick from the right on 65 minutes directly onto the head of Brede Hangeland, who nodded home to make it 3-0 and end the game as a contest.
With the job done Mark Hughes decided to take off the hugely impressive Dembele and replace him with Bobby Zamora who, after watching the shoddy nature of the Bolton defence all night from the bench, will have been hoping to fill his boots.
Lee and Taylor seemed to have finally worked out how to put in a corner after 70 minutes and each picked out Cohen and Elmander respectively but both put their headers wide. It showed though that chances could be created if the delivery was of a good quality, but it was too little too late really for the visitors.
It was Fulham which had the ball in the net next as a brilliant Davies cross was taken down expertly by Zamora and then rifled home at the near post, but the England striker was adjudged to have brought it down with his arm and was in fact booked for his troubles.
The game rather petered out in the last 10 minutes as both sides knew what result was coming and although Bolton was half-heartedly looking for a consolation the Fulham defense remained resolute till the death.
A very wayward Elmander free-kick in stoppage time summed up the evening for Bolton really, very disappointing.
The referee brought proceedings to a close shortly after and Mark Hughes looked understandably delighted as his side walked off worthy 3-0 winners.