Roy Hodgson warned Fulham to guard against complacency after they took a huge stride towards Premier League survival with a 2-0 win over fellow strugglers Birmingham.
Second-half goals from Brian McBride and Erik Nevland at Craven Cottage on Saturday hoisted the Cottagers out of the bottom three for the first time since December while shoving City closer to the Championship.
Relegation battles always throw up engrossing stories and Fulham's is more dramatic than most. They were winless away from home until March and were written off by many following a dismal home defeat to Sunderland last month.
Hodgson's side were even as good as relegated at one point last weekend, while they were losing at Manchester City and other results were going against them, but Diomansy Kamara's last-gasp winner at Eastlands and this well-earned triumph have now placed them on the brink of a remarkable escape.
A win at Portsmouth next Sunday – hardly the stuff of fantasy, given Harry Redknapp's side will have one eye on the FA Cup final – will be enough to save them and while Hodgson is taking nothing for granted, their fans celebrated here as if survivial was already assured.
“We have been written off for a long time and it hasn't been easy to consistently face the questions about whether we were finished,” Hodgson said. “It's euphoric at the moment and I'm happy about that because you have to enjoy the good moments in football – the bad ones are numerous enough.
“But we're not finished yet and the euphoria could turn into sadness if we get the wrong result at Portsmouth and we're relegated. But even if we do, we will go down fighting.”
The fact remains, however, that Fulham are the form team at the foot of the table. They have now won three of their last four matches, including two away from home, and a trip to the south coast will hold no fears, especially in the light of Pompey's cup commitments.
They were in control of this survival tussle from the opening minutes, when Maik Taylor saved well from Simon Davies, although it took until the 52nd minute for the deadlock to be broken when McBride nodded in Jimmy Bullard's free-kick.
Birmingham never seriously threatened an equaliser and the points were secured three minutes from time, when Nevland capitalised on Franck Queudrue's slip to race clear and sweep regally past Taylor.
“I feel relieved and full of admiration for the team to perform like that just when they had to stand up and be counted,” Hodgson added.
“The players showed great mental courage to come out and play in that fashion in a game they had to win. There was a packed house with enthusiastic fans and they were up against a well organised side, but we got our rewards.”
For Birmingham, there is nothing but gloom and trepidation. The Blues have seen their destiny plucked out of their own hands at the worst possible time and know that even a win against Blackburn next weekend will probably not be enough to salvage their top flight status.
Alex McLeish was doing his best to remain bullish on Saturday evening but the Scot, a pragmatic character, knows that the odds are now stacked against his side taking their Premier League residency into a second term.
“There's still an opportunity for us but it's not in our hands,” he said. “We have to win next week now and that won't be easy against a big strong Blackburn side.
“But I've never felt it's been hard to pick up the players following a defeat, especially with a home game next. They know what Premier League status means – it's the goal for them and they have to do everything they can to win.”
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