BOLTON // They are a select band: Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Sergio Aguero and Clint Dempsey. In such elite company, Fulham's USA international may appear the odd one out.
Few describe him as a superstar. He is not even an out-and-out striker. Yet, along with that rather more garlanded trio, he is alone in reaching 20 goals for a top-flight team this season. The versatile American added to his total and his reputation with two goals to halt Bolton Wanderer's revival and earn Fulham that rarest of things: an away win.
They arrived at the Reebok Stadium with the fewest victories on the road in the division and as the lowest scorers away from home in the country. They departed with three points, rubber-stamping their place in next season's Premier League, courtesy of a double from Dempsey, taking him to 21 goals for the season.
"If you consider he scored most of them from a wide position, that is quite amazing," said Martin Jol, the manager. "He is eager to score and he will always be on the end of crosses, like he was for the second goal."
That predatory instinct has produced the most goals any Fulham player has mustered in a Premier League campaign. It also increases his value. Out of contract in 2013, Dempsey has been offered a two-year extension to his deal at Craven Cottage. Yet with every strike, his availability to potential suitors is advertised.
Yesterday's pair indicated how wide his repertoire is. He broke the deadlock with a glorious free kick, struck from 30 yards with sufficient curl to bend around the wall and enough power to go in, despite Adam Bogdan reaching it. His tally was doubled in very different fashion, Dempsey hanging in the air to head in Damien Duff's cross.
It could have been a third hat-trick of the campaign. Before his opener, he was about to start celebrating when he swivelled to turn in Duff's deflected cross, before seeing he was deemed offside. In the second half, he swapped passes with Alex Kacaniklic and shot narrowly wide. "Clint Dempsey is an outstanding player," said the beaten manager, Owen Coyle.
Dempsey's potency rather overshadowed the exploits of his accomplice-in-chief, but Duff enjoyed a terrific game, running the unfortunate Marcos Alonso ragged and twice testing Bogdan. But for the goalkeeper, Bolton would have been completely out of the reckoning with half an hour remaining.
As it was, many fans headed for the exits when the sliding Mahamadou Diarra converted John Arne Riise's cross for his first Fulham goal. It completed an emphatic and excellent victory, where defensive solidity was allied with attacking threat and Jol's bold team selection - all of the four men alongside Diarra in midfield were progressive - was rewarded.
"Our aspiration is to play good football," Jol said. "I think we defended well, kept the ball well at times and earned the right to play."
His Bolton counterpart was rather less satisfied. "My disappointment is the goals we have conceded," Coyle said. "Despite the quality of the first finish, it was easily avoidable, giving the free kick away. We have given the second goal away with a poor pass under pressure and Clint Dempsey is allowed to run unmarked. And with 10 minutes left, we have given away a poor goal on the counter-attack."
It was an anticlimactic afternoon for March's Manager of the Month. Having won controversially against Queens Park Rangers, who had a goal wrongly disallowed, emotionally against Blackburn Rovers, in the first game since Fabrice Muamba suffered a cardiac arrest, and dramatically at Wolverhamton Wanderers, in a five-goal thriller, Bolton's bid for a fourth successive victory, and a best run since 2006, ended abysmally.
This was a curiously flat performance from an in-form side. Bolton mustered one attempt in the first half - and Ryo Miyaichi skied that high over the bar - and Coyle's dissatisfaction was apparent when he made a double substitution at half time, hauling off the Japan international and Darren Pratley.
Wanderers improved thereafter, though, if truth be told, they could hardly have got worse.
One substitute, Chris Eagles, came close with a free kick but they visit Newcastle United tomorrow having squandered a chance to put distance between themselves and the bottom four sides. "It's disappointing," Coyle said.
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