Fulham keep on fighting
Patrick Barclay at Sunday Telegraph
 
   

Fulham (0) 2 Birmingham City (0) 0

At no time during the year Franck Queudrue spent with Fulham - he moved to Birmingham at the start of this season - did he do quite as much for the club as, inadvertently, he did yesterday.

A substitute centre-back for the second half, Queudrue was soon caught gaping as Brian McBride headed the home team's first goal - and later he failed again to challenge in the air, leaving Erik Nevland to put the outcome beyond doubt.

But how Fulham and their deafening fans deserved a victory that gives the club a fighter's chance of avoiding relegation. And how richly Birmingham, sad to say, ­deserved defeat.

At the end, while Roy Hodgson walked off with a wisely restrained smile - Fulham still have to win at Portsmouth to be sure of preserving their status - Alex McLeish looked furious. Understandably; you would not have thought his team had also been playing for their Premier League lives on this tense afternoon by the Thames.

Now they receive Blackburn knowing that even victory might not be enough. One win in nine matches: they have timed their poor run to perfection from the point of view of rivals such as Fulham, who, having started to produce the sort of performances Hodgson was hired to supervise, are looking to make it four wins from their final five matches.

Hodgson is wary. Asked if Portsmouth, with an FA Cup final against Cardiff coming up, might take it easy, he replied: "I don't agree with that at all. This league is not like that.

Harry Redknapp's got a strong squad and any players he brings in will be keen to prove themselves." Far from being carried away by the surrounding euphoria, the Fulham manager stressed: "After the defeat by Liverpool here, I said it would need something of a miracle to keep us up. So we're taking nothing for granted."

McLeish declined to criticise his players in public; he even coupled an acknowledgement that Queudrue had "tried to be too clever" in standing off Nevland with praise for the Frenchman's contribution to a previous match. But it was not just the unfortunate loss of Liam Ridgewell, whom Queudrue replaced at half-time, that undid them.

Too many players were unable to reach the heights scaled by Jimmy Bullard and the near-immaculate Danny Murphy in midfield, McBride up front or Brede Hangeland and Aaron Hughes in defence.

Maik Taylor, also once of Fulham, was an exception. He kept Birmingham level in the early stages with a stunning save, surely one of the best of the season, from Simon Davies.

Already the place was electric. True, a chant of "stand up if you love Fulham" had put many fans of this pleasant club in a quandary: on the one hand, they wanted to express their affection but, if it entailed a breach of ground regulations, they were not so sure.

Yet the ensuing patchy response was about the only ambivalent aspect of an atmosphere described by long-serving regulars as the most raucous they could remember.

Inspired by it, Fulham seized the initiative and, after McBride had struck the crossbar with a header - it was just as well the American did not find the net, for he had been incorrectly judged offside - Taylor denied Davies.

Bullard rolled a free-kick towards the penalty spot and Davies made sweet contact; the ball was flying to the goalkeeper's left when, having dived in anticipation, he stuck out a firm hand.

Such momentum could not be sustained by Hodgson's men and there were a few anxious moments for a defence featuring the giant Hangeland; James McFadden must have felt he had a mountain to climb.

Long before the interval, Fulham were reduced to hitting on the break, though they did threaten through Diomansy Kamara, whose attempt to follow up a two-goal display at Manchester City last weekend with a close-range drive on the turn was thwarted by Radhi Jaidi's resolute block.

Upon the resumption Jaidi erred, leading with an elbow as he challenged McBride in the air and thereby conceding the free-kick from which Fulham took the lead.

Bullard's low-trajectory delivery went over a lot of heads before encountering McBride's, which expertly steered it out of Taylor's reach.

Later Birmingham had another moderately aggressive spell, in which McFadden tried without success to curl the ball around Kasey Keller.

McLeish sent on Mauro Zarate and Cameron Jerome and, with three strikers, endeavoured to find a way through Fulham's rearguard.

But then Paul Konchesky's long ball found Queudrue wanting and Nevland, who made sure of victory at Reading three weeks ago, did it again.

Man of the match
Brian McBride (Fulham) 8

• One goal from two attempts
• Won 71 per cent of aerial duels