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Fulham 0-1 Birmingham Cham 06 1617 - The Guardian

last updated Monday 12th September 2016, 8:35 PM

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Alan Smith at The Guardian

Fulham (0) 0-1 (0) Birmingham

Fulham’s longest unbeaten run since the beginning of the 2010-11 season has ended, but what will really irk Slavisa Jokanovic is the diabolical nature of their performance against a team that would have enjoyed a larger margin of victory had they possessed a more ruthless touch.

If six league games without defeat, plus a Premier League scalp in the EFL Cup, had buoyed the Cottagers before the international break, this return to action will have explained in bold terms that they are a long way off anything resembling a promotion challenge. On the scoreboard only Clayton Donaldson’s 49th-minute spot-kick separated them, but the wider evidence suggested a much bigger disparity.

It took more than an hour for Fulham to display some fight, but by that point they were down to 10 men, had conceded two penalties and their debutant midfielder, Stefan Johansen, was sat on the bench with his head bowed having been hooked after half an hour.

“They deserved the points,” Jokanovic said. “We made so many mistakes during the game. We had some possession without bringing it to our more offensive players. So many mistakes in one game is not good enough.”

Given Fulham’s quite impressive start to the season, the level of control exerted by the visitors from the beginning was mildly surprising, but it would continue for the majority of the game. “In the first half we were excellent,” said Gary Rowett, the Birmingham manager. “We worked well defensively. Even though they had better possession stats, we had 22 shots to their seven.”

Only for the goalkeeping of David Button, Birmingham would have been comfortably clear by half-time. He produced a stunning save low to his left to deny Donaldson, a former team-mate at Brentford, from the spot in the 27th minute and followed it up with stops from Robert Tesche and Jacques Maghoma.

Michael Madl had conceded the first penalty by bringing down Che Adams, earning a yellow card in the process, and the centre-half was dismissed two minutes before the break for a foul on Donaldson near halfway as the striker countered.

In one sense Madl was taking one for the team because the eventual match-winner would have had a clear path to goal. However, the Austrian defender had displayed his shakiness much earlier when shoving Donaldson inside the area. The referee, Tony Harrington, waved away that appeal, but he could not ignore Fulham’s subsequent clumsiness in their own area.

Further up the pitch the hosts were toothless and Jokanovic swiftly altered his lineup, removing Johansen from midfield. The Norwegian, signed from Celtic last month, was switched for Jozabed Sánchez Ruiz, who was scarcely an improvement. “We didn’t start very well and I tried to change the structure, find a solution,” Jokanovic said.

The manager changed personnel once more at the break, introducing Neeskens Kebano for Matt Smith. Yet the second penalty was awarded four minutes after the restart. Again Adams was taken down, this time by Floyd Ayité a yard inside the area. Donaldson insisted on stepping up despite Rowett instructing Maghoma to take over and, confidence still intact, sent Button the wrong way.

Fulham did show some degree of intensity with 25 minutes remaining and had a couple of chances to pull level. A jinking run by Tom Cairney yielded a corner, Kebano was denied by Tomasz Kuszczak and the left-back Scott Malone should have done better with a follow-up attempt.

Chris Martin, on loan from Derby, was sprung from the bench for his debut for the final 15 minutes but Birmingham should have been out of sight. Maghoma, Jonathan Grounds and Lukas Jutkiewicz, who has been borrowed from Burnley, all spurned decent opportunities.

“We made hard work of it a little in second half and we need to be more clinical,” Rowett said, but his team look decent value for third position in the early standings.

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