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Fulham hold out - The Times

last updated Monday 18th November 2002, 11:17 AM
Birmingham City 0 Fulham 0
“Where is the football?” Jean Tigana asked. He repeated it like a mantra. The Fulham coach was incensed enough to complain for “the first time in two and a half years” because of a familiar irritant. Step forward Robbie Savage. Some think he is a throwback to the days when the midfield player’s armoury did not include lipgloss and a quivering bottom lip, but the more aesthetic onlookers believe he is a scourge on the game.

Fulham Manager Jean Tigana
Fulham manager Jean Tigana not happy
with Birmingham's Savage
It is true that Savage plays like a rabid greyhound in pursuit of a rabbit.

He scorches the earth and is a walking provocation. Martin O’Neill, his manager at Leicester City, said that Savage looked like he should be backpacking in the Himalayas, but he still played him. Back then Savage was given a limited role. Devoid of style, he got an Armani tattoo and took to wearing diamond earrings. Then Peter Taylor encouraged him to play football and he has since blossomed into the most energetic midfield player in the top flight. He may be the preferred target of lazy journalists, bruised players and battered egos, but he is Birmingham City’s survival package.

Tigana accepted that Steve Marlet should have been sent off for kicking Savage with ten minutes left. But it was the tackle that preceded it that so riled the normally phlegmatic Frenchman. “It is the first time I have complained in two and a half years about a referee,” he said. “I thought the Fifa rules said that when you make a tackle from behind it is a red card. For me it is too much and for Savage it is not the first time. If referees do not protect the players, then the football is a nothing.”

Fulham fans have also taken to asking where is the football? Four league defeats on the trot had shown their foibles. They are like one of those irritating dance records that have some success on the Continent but are never going to make much impact at home. But having called for leaders, Tigana got some. Down to nine men by the end, they showed spades of resilience. They also had Edwin van der Sar.

The Dutchman saved Stern John’s first-half penalty, awarded after Rufus Brevett had handled the ball on the line, produced wonderful stops from Geoff Horsfield and Darren Purse and even managed to put Savage out of the game. In typical fashion, Savage decided he could outjump the 6ft 5ins keeper, but in doing so he suffered a groin injury and will now miss Wales’s Euro 2004 qualifying match in Azerbaijan on Wednesday. With Steve Bruce, the Birmingham manager, having blamed the last round of internationals for his side’s middling form, that turn of events has a certain irony about it.

“He has learnt not to go up against giants,” Bruce said, not realising that that is precisely what the iconoclast loves to do most. “Tigana must have very good eyesight. Robbie has been guilty of nothing more than a mistimed tackle and probably deserved his yellow card. It didn’t look as if it was a tackle from behind, but I have to admit from where we are sitting it is difficult to see what is happening 70 yards away.” Savage was equally incredulous. “That was never a sending-off,” he said.

As early as the fifth minute, Bruce was wondering if this was to be another frustrating afternoon. Horsfield’s dextrous footwork and low drive produced the first act of Van der Sar’s repertoire. Purse then prodded the ball home from Savage’s lofted pass only for it to be ruled out for offside. Van der Sar blocked Purse’s point-blank effort and an injury-time header from Clinton Morrison was disallowed for offside.

Birmingham’s blues were palpable, but they have enough about them to avoid the drop. Aliou Cissé is an understated but vital cog in the wheel and Purse is a granite figure at the back. But the main man is Savage. Tigana is another name to cross off the Christmas card list, but the Welsh dragon is firing on all cylinders.

Birmingham City (4-4-2):
N Vaesen 5 — O Tebily 6 (sub: B Hughes, 75min), D Purse 7, K Cunningham 6, J Kenna 5 - P Devlin 5, R Savage 7 (sub: J Kirovski, 81), A Cissé 6, S Lazaridis 6 — G Horsfield 5, S John 4 (sub: C Morrison, 75). Substitutes not used: I Bennett, D Powell. Booked: Devlin, Savage.
NEXT: Sunderland (a). FORM: DLWLDW.

Fulham (4-4-2):
E van der Sar 8 — S Finnan 6, A Melville 7, A Goma 7, R Brevett 2 — B Goldbaek 5 (sub: J Inamoto, 85), L Clark 5, S Legwinski 4 (sub: M Djetou, 60 5), S Malbranque 5, — S Marlet 3, L Boa Morte 3 (sub: Z Knight, 71 5). Substitutes not used: M Taylor, F Sava. Booked: Finnan. Sent off: Brevett, Marlet.
NEXT: Liverpool (h). FORM: DLLLLD

Referee: M Messias 4. Attendance: 26,164
Source The Times by Rick Broadbent
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