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Fulham dream run keeps going

last updated Saturday 03rd May 2008, 7:38 PM
Fulham 2-0 Birmingham
Brian McBride
Brian McBride
Man of the Match
Brian McBride and Erik Nevland struck to haul Fulham out of the Barclays Premier League bottom three and leave Birmingham on the brink of relegation.

McBride converted Jimmy Bullard's 52nd-minute free-kick to edge the Cottagers out of the drop zone for the first time since Boxing Day, before Nevland sealed a famous 2-0 victory with a fine finish.

It was the first time the London club had registered successive league victories since September 2006 and the win sets them up beautifully for their nerve-shredding finale at Portsmouth.

Even manager Roy Hodgson appeared to accept his side's seven-year stay in the top flight was over after the 3-1 defeat by Sunderland a month ago, but their remarkable escape act continues.

Winning three of their last four matches has left them on the threshold of a stunning achievement - at one point they were 1/50 for the drop - that could yet be ruined at Fratton Park.

In contrast, Birmingham are heading in the opposite direction.

With the stakes so high - £35million is said to be the cost of relegation - the match was short on quality but high in drama, particularly in a nail-biting second half.

To their credit, Fulham tried to play football, while a workmanlike Birmingham relied on James McFadden for their only moments of inspiration.

The opening of the match was greeted by a crescendo of noise as Fulham fans, armed with 'clappers', sought to lift their team.

Match Stats Fulham Birmingham
Goals 2 0
Possession 58% 42%
Goal attempts 9 2
On Target 6 0
Corners 2 8
Off-sides 7 4
Saves 1 4
Fouls 10 12
Yellows 2 5
Reds 0 0
source: Soccernet
And they were almost given the dream start when McBride headed a cross by Paul Konchesky onto the crossbar, although the linesman had wrongly flagged for offside.

Lightning reflexes from Maik Taylor denied Fulham in the eighth minute as Simon Davies pulled the trigger on Bullard's free-kick, only for the Blues goalkeeper to intervene superbly.

Errors began to creep into Fulham's play just as they sought to crank up the pressure on a side that has failed to keep a clean sheet in their last 17 matches.

Brave defending from centre-back Brede Hangeland snuffed out two promising attacks by Birmingham, whose influence on the match was growing.

A corner from the left resulted in some aerial ping-pong, with Hangeland, Aaron Hughes and Clint Dempsey scrambling desperately to clear.

McFadden sliced Fulham open with a jinking run that Sebastian Larsson concluded with a dangerous cross that Mikael Forssell could not control.

The Cottagers' goal was coming under mounting pressure, but their defence, led by the magnificent Hangeland, were keeping them at bay. Play became increasingly cagey, but one slick interchange by Fulham, involving Bullard and Dempsey, interrupted the midfield battle that was unfolding.

Only a crucial interception from Hughes prevented Birmingham from taking the lead in the 42nd minute, with McFadden again doing the damage.

The Scotland forward weaved his way into space and picked out Forssell, who only had keeper Kasey Keller to beat, but Hughes arrived in the nick of time.

Fulham started the second half with a flourish and crept ahead in the 52nd minute.

Jaidi conceded a free-kick for an elbow on McBride that Bullard lofted into the box and the American striker escaped some sloppy marking to nod home virtually on his knees.

Birmingham were at panic stations once again a heartbeat later when Diomansy Kamara jinked his way into the box, but he chose to shoot from an acute angle when he should have squared across goal.

McFadden flashed an effort narrowly wide and in the 68th minute Kamara - who had ousted David Healy from the starting line-up - was replaced by Nevland.

Birmingham won a dangerous free-kick but failed to employ their controversial tactic of using Jaidi to block the goalkeeper's vision and Fulham cleared the danger.

Dempsey missed a good chance to extend the lead when he sent a close-range header over the crossbar.

The tension of the occasion appeared to be getting to Fulham as they repeatedly gave the ball away, but they put the result beyond doubt with four minutes to go.

Nevland collected a bouncing ball, escaped Jaidi in a sprint into the box before rifling past Taylor.

Fulham: Keller, Stalteri, Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky, Davies, Bullard (Andreasen 88), Murphy, Dempsey (Healy 90), Kamara (Nevland 67), McBride.
Subs Not Used: Warner, Bocanegra.

Booked: Stalteri (45,f), Davies (70,f).

Goals: McBride 52, Nevland 87.

Birmingham: Maik Taylor, Kelly, Jaidi, Ridgewell (Queudrue 46), Murphy, Larsson, Muamba, Johnson, Kapo (Zarate 58), Forssell (Jerome 74), McFadden.
Subs Not Used: Doyle, Parnaby.

Booked: Muamba, Queudrue, Jerome, Jaidi, McFadden.

Att: 25,308

Ref: Chris Foy (Merseyside).

BBC Sport man of the match: Fulham's Brian McBride

Source Soccernet
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