STOKE CITY edged a five goal thriller in front of the live television cameras on Tuesday night to move up to tenth place in the Barclays Premier League.
In what turned out to be a real game of two halves, City found themselves 3-0 up at the half-time interval thanks to goals from Tuncay (13), Abdoulaye Faye (34) and Mamady Sidibe (37).
However, things didn't quite go as smoothly during the second period as strikes from Damien Duff just after the hour mark and a Clint Dempsey wonderstrike in the last five minutes ensured a nervy ending to the game.
City held on though despite a late Fulham onslaught and claimed a deserved three points to get 2010 off to a perfect start.
Ahead of the game Tony Pulis made numerous changes to the starting line up as he welcomed Ryan Shawcross back from suspension, whilst Tuncay, Sidibe and Steve Simonsen were all included.
Despite the adverse weather conditions questioning whether the game would go ahead throughout the day, the match did eventually get underway and City almost got the game off to the perfect start.
The lively Etherington superbly fired the ball home after just 90 seconds, but the linesman had his flag up for offside as Mamady Sidibe delayed his ball through to the former West Ham man.
It was Fulham's turn to test the City resolve minutes later as Abdoulaye Faye was adjudged to have fouled Bobby Zamora just ouside the 18-yard box. Skipper Danny Murphy stepped up and deceived the Potters five man wall by curling a low effort inches wide of the post, with Simonsen beaten.
An entertaining start to the game climaxed in the 13th minute when Tuncay met Robert Huth's flick on from Etherington's corner and powered the ball beyond Mark Schwarzer from 3-yards to put the hosts into the lead.
One was almost two shortly after and again it was Etherington who proved to be the catalyst. The Dynamic midfielder burst down the left and fired across a dangerous ball which Sidibe brilliantly controlled, swivelled and fired an audacious volley goalwards, however, Schwarzer was equal to his effort and saved well down to his left.
A rampant City side didn't have to wait long to double their advantage though as skipper Faye was on hand to tap the ball into an empty net after Etherington's deep corner evaded a packed out 6-yard box.
The majority of the Britannia Stadium had barely recovered from their celebrations by the time Sidibe had fired the Potters into a three goal lead just three minutes later.
The Malian international striker latched onto Higginbotham's clever flick on, as the Potters laid siege to the Fulham penalty area, and smashed the ball into the roof of the net with a clinically taken half volley.
Tony Pulis was handed a blow in the 40th minute when Turkey star Tuncay was forced off with what appeared to be a slight thigh strain, but his replacement Ricardo Fuller wasted no time in carrying on from where his fellow team-mate had left off.
Firstly, the Jamaican international exquisitely headed Etherington's in-swinging corner off the post, before Huth saw his rebound saved by the legs of Schwarzer before Delap's effort was bravely blocked by the outstretched Brede Hangeland.
A moment of brilliance from the City striker then almost led to an outstanding individual effort. Fuller controlled Higginbotham's long diagonal on the left flank and then flicked the ball majestically over the head of former Potter Kelly, but after shrugging off his challenge, his goal-bound effort was diverted out for a corner by Northern Ireland defender Hughes.
Following what appeared to have been a stern half time talking to from boss Hodgson, the visitors looked far brighter as the second half got underway. Hitman Bobby Zamora fired an effort just over after cleverly getting the better of Ryan Shawcross, whilst former West Brom man Zoltan Gera curled an effort wide from 10-yards.
Damien Duff was next to try his luck with a curling free-kick, but despite clearing the wall, the ball dipped just over with Simonsen looking calm and collective as he ushered it over. There was nothing he could do just after the hour mark though when Duff smashed the ball into the roof of the net via a huge deflection off the unfortunate Shawcross, as he gave the visitors fresh hope of salvaging something from the game.
They very nearly pulled themselves right back in the game five minutes later as they pushed forward in search of a second. Duff, who joined the Cottagers from Newcastle in the summer, fired across a dangerous ball which was powered towards goal by substitute Clint Dempsey, but Simonsen did well to gather his effort.
At the other end Fuller almost put the game to bed in the 72nd minute as his turn and strike brought out the best of Schwarzer, who used his full body to turn his effort around the post and out for a corner.
City looked comfortable, but when Dempsey struck a sensational effort up and over Simonsen from 30-yards with just five minutes remaining, you did begin to wonder whether it would be another one of those days. However, despite the American going close again shortly after, City stood firm for an additional five minutes of added time to pick up a vital three points.