Sunday, May 04, 2008

Fulham 2 Birmingham City 0 - Taking it to the wire

The sight of Eric Nevland bearing down on goal, before tucking away a sumptuous finish is something that will live in my mind for a very long time. From the moment he collected the ball after a hopeful lob from Paul Konchesky I felt certain he was going to score and guarantee us the three points we needed to take our fight for survival down to the wire. The seconds seemed to stretch to minutes with each step, first touch, second touch, third touch, bang! 2-0 Fulham, game over! YESSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!

We'd dominated the game for long stretches and created some decent chances. McBride connected with a deep cross from Konchesky, sending a powerful header inches over the bar. He was ruled offside but it was a good start. Later a cunning free kick routine saw Bullard play a ball square to Simon Davies whose shot seemed goalbound only for Maik Taylor to pull off an outstanding save to push the ball round the post. Whilst it remained goalless though, we knew it would only take one mistake or one moment of skill to turn things completely on their head. Birmingham were thankfully toothless in attack, but did have moments of promise. They were quick to counter and in Oliver Kapo and Fabrice Muamba had two players of genuine quality. McFadden also looked threatening at times, but we rode our luck a couple of times and were happy to find the Blues had left their shooting boots on the coach.

The second half began with renewed vigour as the home fans raised the roof with a display of support as good as any I've experienced at the Cottage. The first goal came as Bullard floated in a peach of a freekick and McBride lost his marker before hammering home a diving header. My eyes were on McBride throughout the move and it was brilliant to see him find that inch of space and then accelerate and dive to connect with the ball. This could be Brian last game at the Cottage and if it is I can think of no better way of remembering him than that goal. The team grew in confidence having taken the lead and we entered a spell of domination and almost total football. As Birmingham pushed forward in search of a comeback the game got stretched and Diomansy Kamara came into his own. For a good ten minutes he chased down every lost ball and caused the City defence no end of problems. One glorious piece of skill saw him dribble an intricate path into the Blues box before firing a hopeless shot so high it almost cleared the Hammy End roof. It was a moment that endeared Kamara to me more than any other. Dio left the pitch (replaced by Nevland) to a standing ovation after picking up an injury that may have been a result of his exuberance.

With less pace in the attack we still kept up the pressure. Danny Murphy was outstanding in midfield and pulled the strings, Davies and Konchesky worked the flanks well, and Dempsey, who had earlier played a very disciplined role on the left, now found a bit more freedom to push forward. Hangeland was excellent at the back, looking much more assured than in recent games, whilst Aaron Hughes provided the perfect partner and more than once covered for other defenders. The Nevland goal created an explosion of joy and relief in the crowd and on the pitch as we knew this time the job was done. Bullard and Dempsey left the pitch to similar applause to be replaced by Andreasen and Healy as we tried to see out the final minutes. There was even time for Healy and Davies to trade showboat passes and almost set up a crowd pleasing third goal.

Whatever happens at Fratton Park next week this was a great end to the home fixtures. We've done all we can to keep our hopes alive and amazingly have our destiny in our own hands going into the final week. I think Pompey will be after a good finish to their season and will field a stronger team than many pundits suggest. If we play like we did on Saturday though I won't have any complaints, however it ends.

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