Edwin van der Sar saved a Stern John penalty as nine-man Fulham hung on for a point to end their run of four successive league defeats in a battling display at Birmingham City this afternoon.
The writing appeared on the wall when Rufus Brevett was dismissed for keeping out Geoff Horsfield’s header with his hand but van der Sar made a superb save from John’s spot-kick and former Fulham forward sent the rebound wide. Jean Tigana’s side somehow survived the final twelve minutes with nine minute after Steve Marlet was sent for for kicking out at Robbie Savage.
The scrappy contest wouldn’t have lived long in the memory until the red cards spiced things up. Two teams on the same points at kick off struggled to provide moments of genuine quality. Horsfield, a cult hero at Craven Cottage until Tigana sold him to Birmingham shortly after becoming Fulham manager two years ago, tested van der Sar with a goalbound drive in the fifth minute. Blues began the sharper and had the ball in the net but Darren Purse was adjudged offside,
Nine minutes before half time disaster struck for a Fulham outfit who were already on the back foot. Horsfield glanced a header towards the far corner from Paul Devlin’s delicious cross – only for Brevett to use his arm to prevent the striker from scoring. After the full back was given his marching orders, John stepped forward to take the penalty. van der Sar made a brilliant stop, but only succeeded in pushing the ball out to the onrushing Horsfield, who fired wide.
The hosts were in the ascendancy for almost the entirety of the second period but couldn’t make their numerical advantage count. van der Sar pulled off another outstanding reaction save to keep out a Purse header from point-blank range and Steve Bruce was forced to turn to his substitutes in order to try and break the deadlock. He sent out Bryan Hughes and Clinton Morrison and the contest swung further in the home side’s direction shortly afterwards when Marlet ended his running battle with Savage by lashing out at the mouthy midfielder. The French forward was sent off and Fulham would have to see out the chaotic closing stages with just nine men.
Fulham, whose centre backs Alain Goma and Andy Melville were outstanding at organising their backs-to-the-wall effort, survived heroically. Substitute Morrison thought he had pinched the points for Birmingham in the third minute of stoppage time but his joy was cut short by another offside flag. Bruce admitted to immense ‘frustration’ following the final whistle, whilst his opposite number Tigana was quietly content with the fortitude that Fulham had shown here – which had been absent in recent league fixtures.
BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-4-2): Vaesen, Tebily (Hughes 75), Purse, Cunningham, Kenna, Devlin, Savage (Kirovski 82), Cisse, Lazaridis, John (Morrison 75), Horsfield. Subs (not used): Bennett, Powell.
BOOKED: Devlin, Savage.
FULHAM (4-4-2): van der Sar; Finnan, Brevett, Goma, Melville; Legwinski (Djetou 60), Clark, Goldbaek (Inamoto 85), Malbranque; Marlet, Boa Morte (Knight 71). Subs (not used): Taylor, Sava.
SENT OFF: Brevett (37), Marlet (78).
REFEREE: Matt Messias (North Yorkshire).