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Fulham on brink of great escape as Birmingham face drop

SoccerNews in English Premier League 3 May 2008


Fulham kept their remarkable survival bid on course with a priceless 2-0 victory over fellow strugglers Birmingham on Saturday.

The Londoners moved out of the bottom three for the first time since December 22 thanks to second-half goals from Brian McBride and Erik Nevland and now have their Premier League future in their own hands ahead of next weekend's final round of matches.

But while Roy Hodgson can dream of another season of top flight football, Birmingham's prospects look bleak.

Alex McLeish's team, without a win in five matches, have lost form at the worst possible time and the odds are now stacked against them extending their top flight residency into a second campaign.

Relegation squabbles are never less than frantic affairs and Craven Cottage provided all the usual survival cliches on its biggest day of the season: fingernails bitten to the quick, a manic atmosphere in the stands and players too befuddled by nervous energy to produce anything approaching polished football.

But there was no doubt which team coped better with the occasion. Hodgson's side have already been written off twice in the last month alone but their lower expectations appeared to ease the pressure.

At the hub of all their best work was Jimmy Bullard. The 29-year-old is an effervescent presence in the heart of his side's midfield and, at his best, he can drag a side over the finish line almost single-handedly.

It took him just seven minutes to muscle his way to centre-stage, miscuing a half-volley after Simon Davies had broken free down the right-hand side, but he showed more composure moments later when Fulham won a free-kick deep into Birmingham territory.

Birmingham were expecting an inswinging cross but Bullard instead played a cute pass to the unmarked Davies. His first-time shot was arrowing in until Maik Taylor parried brilliantly.

City were content to simply hold on during these chaotic early stages, but once Fulham's fiery start began to sputter, the visitors began to assert themselves.

They might even have plundered a priceless opening goal in the 41st minute, when a rare moment of sloppiness from Bullard gifted possession to Olivier Kapo.

The Frenchman's searching pass found James McFadden, who skipped into the area and slid a pass to Mikael Forssell. The Finn looked certain to tap in but Aaron Hughes appeared from nowhere to nick the ball off his toes.

City were still ruing that missed chance when Fulham almost snatched the lead for themselves moments later. Diomansy Kamara collected a loose ball in the six-yard box but his goal-bound shot was brilliantly blocked by Radhi Jaidi.

Birmingham were grateful for the let-off but the reprieve was temporary.

Seven minutes after the interval, another Bullard free-kick – curled in more predictably this time – picked out McBride and the American's diving header found the bottom corner.

It was a nightmarish moment for McLeish and his clearly rattled side began to lose their way. Two minutes after McBride's opener, Kamara capitalised on flimsy defending to waltz past four tackles before blazing high and wide at the near post.

The atmosphere grew increasingly frenzied as the seconds ebbed away and Fulham grew increasingly edgy. Every misplaced pass and mistimed tackle drew howls of anguish from the home fans but, for all their angst, the closest Birmingham came to an equaliser was a Jaidi header which deflected wide after brushing Franck Queudrue.

Instead, it was Fulham who had the final word. A hopeful downfield punt caught out Queudrue and Nevland burst clear before finishing emphatically beyond Maik Taylor.


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