Fulham could escape
Duncan Castles at The Observer
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Fulham 2 Birmingham City 0

Not yet down and out in Birmingham, but survival is looking a good deal more likely in London. On an afternoon of cacophony and commitment, Fulham won back-to-back League matches for the first time in 71 games to escape the relegation zone they have inhabited since mid-December.

So often their focal point in the past, Brian McBride delivered the opening goal, heading in the cross of another long-term absentee, Jimmy Bullard, to set the home side on their way to three points. Such is their advantage on goal difference over Reading that three more points at Cup finalists Portsmouth on Sunday should guarantee another season of Premier League football.

Third bottom at kick-off, second-bottom at full time, Birmingham's fate is now out of their own hands. Alex McLeish's men stood a point behind Fulham and Reading - and Bolton before last night's late kick-off - with only a home game with Blackburn to play.

Roy Hodgson had entered the match declaring that: 'You've got to enjoy it because as football managers we've got a job that everyone else in the country wants.' If the Fulham manager's job was on the line, McLeish at least knew he would be at St Andrew's next season whether it was to lead out a Championship side or a Premier League one.

His team's problem had not been the acquiring of goals, it had been the preventing of them. Netting in all but one of their previous eight matches before yesterday had not helped Birmingham win any more than one of them. Away from home, they are without a victory since mugging Tottenham in McLeish's first match as manager in December.

Welcomed on to the pitch by a barrage of balloons and a cacophony of club-provided cardboard handclappers, Fulham started as frantically as the sonic backdrop - a charged-up Clint Dempsey bowling past Raidi Jaidi, Danny Murphy knocking the returning Damien Johnson's boot off as he rushed forward.

If their first chance was lost to a Jimmy Bullard air-shot, McBride was considerably more convincing with a diving header against the crossbar that was wrongly flagged offside. Still more impressive was the training-ground set piece from which Simon Davies almost scored a minute later.

A few yards diagonally right of the Birmingham area, Dempsey faked to take and Bullard to shoot before the latter curved the ball low along the turf to the penalty spot. Davies met it perfectly, but Maik Taylor in the Birmingham goal was its equal, diving smartly to his left to turn it wide.

Birmingham were struggling to exert any kind of control, though Sebastian Larsson managed to put the ball in the net after 22 minutes, but the midfielder was penalised for either handball or high feet.

The game then entered a period of nervy stalemate during which Fabrice Muamba regularly broke up Fulham attacks and James McFadden intermittently threatened to tee up Mikael Forssell, the Scotsman's best effort athletically toed away by Aaron Hughes. At the other end, Diomansy Kamara continued to test the workings of the visitors' offside trap without successfully springing it.

McLeish exchanged Liam Ridgewell for Franck Queudrue at the interval, Muamba quickly clattered Dempsey and the relentlessly energetic McBride drew a second save from Taylor. The division's worst set-piece defenders, though, were about to concede again.

McBride won a free-kick from Jaidi's challenge, Bullard crossed from the right and Queudrue, against his old side, granted the American centre-forward more than enough room to head it back across Taylor. Loud to begin with, Craven Cottage turned supersonic.

Fulham were firmly back in the ascendancy as Kamara dribbled through three opponents before firing wildly over then was dragged back by yet another marginal offside decision. McLeish responded by adding striker Mauro Zaraté and changing formation to 4-3-3.

McFadden continued to look their most likely saviour, escaping markers to drift one left-foot shot wide of Kasey Keller's upright then just failing to find Forssell with a throughball. Their play, though, was turning ragged with Dempsey coming close to a second at the other end before Erik Nevland settled things with three minutes to go.

Again, the goal was a personal disaster for Queudrue, the Frenchman bizarrely allowing Paul Konchesky's hefty up-and-under to bounce off his back and into the path of Nevland. Free invitation gratefully received, the Norwegian substitute raced onwards and finished crisply past Taylor.

'We are staying up,' intoned the Cottage after their first home League win over Birmingham in 40 years. Whether it keeps them off the Championship streets will be decided next week.