AFC Bournemouth cruised back to the top of the Sky Bet Championship with an impressive 5-1 victory over Fulham at Craven Cottage.
The Sky Sports cameras were in town and the Cherries did not disappoint, with braces from both Brett Pitman and Matt Ritchie, plus a late screamer from Steve Cook, ensuring viewers enjoyed a Friday night feast of football.
Second half substitute Matt Smith did score a consolation for the Cottagers, but in truth the result never looked in doubt as the Cherries looked back to their fluid best.
The result sees Eddie Howe’s men leapfrog Derby County, Middlesbrough and Watford, who all have a game in hand, to go back to the league summit.
Howe made one change to the starting XI for the clash, with Pitman replacing Tuesday night’s goalscoring hero Yann Kermorgant who had been unable to recover fully from a dead leg sustained in the win over Wolves.
There was also one change on the bench, with Junior Stanislas replacing Ryan Fraser, who suffered a groin injury in training.
Fulham, who last weekend defeated fellow promotion challengers Derby County and were lucky not to take anything away from Watford in midweek, made their intentions clear in the early stages, as they started the game brightly.
And Artur Boruc was the first of the two ‘keepers to be tested, with Hugo Rodallega heading narrowly over the bar.
Marc Pugh was next to come close as he picked up a cross-field ball on the left, cut in and sent in a snapshot from 30 yards which Marcus Bettinelli was forced to tip over.
The end to end nature of the game showed no signs of stopping and it was Fulham who next capitalised on a weak pass in the centre of midfield, to earn themselves a corner, which Fernando Amorebieta headed just over at the near post.
Ross McCormack also forced Boruc into a save at the near post just moments later but Pugh, who was causing all sorts of problems on the right, capitalised on a slip on the right to set up the Cherries’ best move yet.
After his initial cross was cleared, the ball fell to Arter, who sliced the ball back into the danger area and Callum Wilson headed it back across goal towards Pitman, but the home defence scrambled to ensure he wasn’t able to tap it in.
The next chance fell to Wilson on the 21st minute as he latched on to a long goal kick, but having been forced out wide, he could only direct hi shot straight at Bettinelli.
The chances continued to come for the Cherries, and it was on the 29th minute that they deservedly took the lead.
Pugh played the ball out to Charlie Daniels on the left, and he picked out Pitman in the centre of the area who made no mistake.
And just eight minutes later the lead was doubled, as Matt Ritchie, rumoured to be a target for the Cottagers earlier in the season, saw his low drive deflect off a defender and beyond the unsighted Bettinelli.
Eddie Howe’s men continued to look the better of the two sides in the early stages of the second period, despite Matt Smith’s half time introduction in place of Hugo Rodallega sparking the home side into life.
Harry Arter saw a shot fly over the bar in the 52nd minute, before Wilson had the ball in the back of the net four minutes later – only for the referee to flag for a foul on Nikolay Bodurov.
But that didn’t stop the Cherries’ onslaught though and as Fulham pushed players forward in an attempt to get a goal back, space opened up.
And on the 61st minute they got their just rewards as Pitman added his second of the night in style.
Reminiscent of the League One days, the Jersey born striker picked the ball picked inside his own half and ran the length of the pitch, shrugging off a number of men in white before coolly slotting beyond Bettinelli.
Substitute Smith, by far the hosts’ best player, pulled one back, somewhat against the run of play just five minutes later as he retrieved McCormack’s ball into the box and rifled the ball into the roof of the net.
Whilst the home fans were buoyed by the goal, it wasn’t long before their mood was once again dampened.
Arter picked out Wilson on the edge of the area, and as he looked to race into the area he was pulled down by Amorebieta.
Referee Andrew Madley had no hesitation in reaching for the red card, and Ritchie added to Fulham’s troubles as he then slammed home the free kick into the corner of the net.
The Cherries supporters were in dreamland behind the Fulham goal and they had further reason to cheer on the 85th minute.
With the Cherries players queuing up to add to the tally, it was Cook who completed the scoring, with another goal of the season of contender, finding the far corner from the right hand side of the area.
The impressive strike capped off an impressive evening for the Cherries, who host bottom of the league Blackpool next weekend.
AFC Bournemouth: Boruc, Francis, Cook, Elphick, Daniels, Pugh (Smith 80), Surman, Arter, Ritchie (Stanislas 86), Pitman, Wilson (Rantie 76).
Unused substitutes: Camp, Ward, MacDonald, Kermorgant.
Goals: Pitman (29,62), Ritchie (38,70)
Fulham: Bettinelli, Hoogland, Bodurov, Hutchinson, Amorebieta, Parker, Tunnicliffe, Kavanagh (Fofana 72), Ruiz (Stafylifdis 72), Rodallega (Smith 45), McCormack.
Unused substitutes: Kiraly, Voser, Woodrow, Burn.
Sent off: Amorebieta
Goal: Smith (66)