You might have been forgiven for thinking Kevin Keegan was still in charge of Fulham. The England manager bequeathed a promotion-winning squad to his successor, Paul Bracewell, and for more than a hour it looked as the new boss would have a dream start at Birmingham City. Geoff Horsfield scored twice to give the Londoners a two-goal lead and Lee Clark pulled the strings impressively on his debut in central midfield, but Bryan Hughes pulled a goal back before Horsfield was sent off for two bookings. That dismissal changed the complexion of the game, with Blues completing their fightback through a fabulous free-kick from Stan Lazaridis.
The visitors made the stronger start. Stan Collymore, understandably perhaps given his Aston Villa credentials, was the target of the boo-boys on his first appearance for the Cottagers but it was Horsfield who posed more problems for the visiting defence. Horsfield, tipped for England by the Fulham fans last season when Keegan took over from the sacked Glenn Hoddle initially on a temporary basis, scored at the second attempt nine minutes before half time after a strong run from Sean Davis down the right flank.
The former Halifax forward then appeared to have settled the contest just before the hour mark when he gleefully seized upon on a sloppy backpass from Darren Purse to steer a finish past the exposed Kevin Poole, sparking wild celebrations amongst the away supporters. Trevor Francis certainly thought so, believing that a combination of Bryan Hughes’ tap-in and the sending off of Horsfield, who picked up a second yellow card for a late challenge on Martin Johnson, rescued the Blues from an opening day defeat after they had been totally outclassed for the first sixty minutes.
The goal galvanised the home support and saw Fulham retreat into defensive mode when they had looked like scoring every time they went forward in the first half. Belief soared through the Blues’ ranks, but Maik Taylor made two terrific saves to deny Andy Johnson an equaliser. Blues were not to be denied with Taylor behind all ends up by a brilliant Lazaridis free-kick from fully 25 yards out with five minutes remaining on the clock.
Bracewell professed himself disappointed afterwards at Fulham’s failure to hold onto their two-goal cushion. He considered Horsfield’s dismissal the turning point – identifying it as an avoidable mistake ‘that put pressure on us’.
BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-4-2): Poole; Rowett, Grainger (Forinton 75), Purse (Holland 83), M. Johnson; O’Connor, B. Hughes, McCarthy; Adebola (A. Johnson 67), Furlong. Subs (not used): Knight, Gill.
BOOKED: Hughes, McCarthy.
GOALS: B. Hughes (62), Lazaridis (85).
FULHAM (5-3-2): Taylor; Finnan, Brevett, Morgan, Coleman, Melville; Davis (Hayward 89), S. Hughes (Trollope 67), Clark; Horsfield, Collymore. Subs (not used): Hahnemann, Neilson, Peschisolido.
BOOKED: Clark, Horsfield, Trollope.
SENT OFF: Horsfield (75).
GOALS: Horsfield (36, 59).
REFEREE: Kevin Lynch (Kirk Hammerton).