Unlikely hero Baird hands Hughes a stay of execution
Stoke City 0
An away victory for Fulham may not quite qualify as a Christmas miracle, but 500 days after they last won on their travels, the club's fans would be forgiven for seeking supernatural explanations. Their manager under pressure, their team under a hex, rescued by the unlikeliest of heroes.
Mark Hughes had entered this game condemned by silence, deafened by whispers: Mohamed al Fayed had failed to reassure the manager his position was safe; the Egyptian was sharpening his axe; Hughes had just three games to save his job; Diego Maradona would be installed as his replacement. His fate would be sealed by defeat at Stoke. Few fixtures this campaign seemed so preordained.
This Premier League season, though, continues to confound. Not only did Fulham win, but they won so well that Hughes felt able to describe the victory as "season defining".
Even more unlikely, though, was the identity of the man who saved Hughes from the executioner's chair. Both goals were scored, spectacularly, by Chris Baird, the full-back who had not scored since March 2007.
Even his team-mates could not believe their eyes when the first, a sweetly-struck volley that arrowed past Asmir Begovic, went in.
If Fulham are not supposed to win away, Northern Irish journeymen defenders are certainly not supposed to score goals like these. "It was a goal of the season contender," insisted Hughes. "It surprises me that he has not scored for so long, because he is one of the best strikers of the ball we have at the club."
The second, dispatched low to Begovic's left, was "a goal from the moment he hit it", said Hughes. (© Daily Telegraph, London)