Premier League - Fulham drag Blues into mire

Sun, 15 May 17:58:00 2011

Two goals from Brede Hangeland gave Fulham a deserved 2-0 win at Birmingham City to drag the Blues into a final-day Premier League relegation battle.

Match Highlights:

The Norway defender scored from corners early in each half as Fulham dominated at St Andrew’s, with the hosts barely putting up a fight aside from a 15-minute period before half-time.

The result puts Fulham eighth, while Birmingham are only out of the drop zone on goal difference, ahead of Blackpool and Wigan who also have 39 points.

Birmingham started like a team battling the drop, with goalkeeper Ben Foster looking like a player in no position to throw his England toys out of the pram as some calamitous errors blotted his copy book.

Clint Dempsey had already missed a gilt-edged chance, poking over from close range after meeting Andy Johnson’s cut-back, when in the third minute Foster badly misjudged a long punt from his Fulham counterpart Mark Schwarzer: it almost bounced over the former Manchester United keeper, leading him to clamber back and tip it behind for a corner when it should have been an easy take.

From that set piece Fulham took the lead, Hangeland powering a trademark towering header into the ground to bounce the ball into the roof of the net.

They should have added to the lead when Johnson, playing against his former club, flicked a close-range header wide after an excellent cross from Jonathan Greening, while Steven Sidwell fired straight at Foster when played in.

Bobby Zamora, as ever near unplayable in the air, struck the post with a header from Greening’s superb free-kick from the right, while Foster again made a boo-boo when he spilled Greening’s shot, saved by his defenders as a host of white shirts looked to pounce on the rebound.

That was around the half-hour mark, until which Birmingham had barely turned up.

But they rallied afterwards and had by far the better of the final quarter-hour of the first half, peppering the Fulham box with high balls and winning a series of set pieces, one of which saw defender Martin Jiranek shave the outside of the post with an improvised chest-down from Stuart Parnaby’s cross.

Their best chance came on 41 minutes as a superb centre from Sebastian Larsson was met by the head of an otherwise-quiet Kevin Phillips: his finish struck Hangeland and flew just wide.

Birmingham started the second half in a similar vein but they were open at the back, with Fulham exploiting this on numerous occasions.

A limping Zamora, who had just picked up an injury, could only fire weakly at Foster when played clean through by Danny Murphy, while Sidwell hit the post seconds later after Dempsey slid him in.

It was 2-0 soon afterwards when Birmingham again failed to deal with a Fulham corner, Hangeland volleying in his second after Jiranek cleared Zamora’s effort off the line, the giant stopper helped by some terrible defending from the hosts as they floundered instead of clearing their lines.

Eidur Gudjohnsen was brought on for Zamora and he almost scored with his first touch, drawing a decent save from Foster after Johnson’s cut-back, while Sidwell fired over after good play again from Johnson.

Just after the hour Gudjohnsen repaid the compliment to Johnson with a super through ball, with Foster denying the former Birmingham forward, while the last 30 minutes saw Fulham ‘do a Barcelona’ by playing some lovely one-touch passing as Blues barely felt the ball.

Dempsey in particular was revelling in the freedom, showing some great touches and appearing to provoke the early departure of dozens of home fans after showboating with a backheel.

Blues barely threatened Fulham’s half let alone the goal, any deliveries well fielded by Schwarzer and the impressive new central defensive partnership of Hangeland and Philippe Senderos.

And as news of a last-gasp Wigan win filtered through, Alex McLeish’s side may well need to win at Tottenham Hotspur on the last day of the season if they are to avoid becoming the first League Cup winners to be relegated since Norwich in 1985.

Reda Maher / Eurosport

Not already a Yahoo! user ? to get a free Yahoo! Account