Fulham ended a miserable win of six games without a win as they turned on the style to ease past Birmingham City and reach the fourth round of the FA Cup at Loftus Road this afternoon.
First half efforts from Facundo Sava and Bjarne Goldbaek established a comfortable cushion for Jean Tigana’s side before Louis Saha marked his return after four months on the sidelines with a hamstring injury with a goal. Stern John did score a late consolation for the Blues, but they were very distinctly second best.
Both sides came into this Cup contest arguably grateful for the distraction from league football as they were both badly out of form. Fulham began the sharper and never looked back after taking the lead in the eleventh minute. A brisk break saw Argentinian striker Sava collect Steed Malbranque’s pass and advance into the Birmingham penalty area and fire a low shot under the body of visiting goalkeeper Nico Vaesen. Goldbaek made it two from close range, reacting quickest to race onto a poor clearance from Robbie Savage and drill home with Birmingham’s defenders apparently fearing giving away a penalty.
Birmingham chances were few and far between. Martin Grainger did test Maik Taylor with a curling free-kick, whilst Steve Bruce probably knew it wasn’t going to be his day when Johan Kirovski found himself clean through on goal only for play to brought back by referee Neale Barry because he had already awarded a free-kick to the visitors.
Bruce replaced his ineffectual front two with a pair of new forwards at half time but the problems persisted at the other end of the pitch with debutant Fernando Coly looking distinctly off the pace. It took only sixty seconds of the second half for Fulham to add a third. Saha seemed to be surrounded by blue shirts but spun sharply and squeezed a shot past Vaesen. Blues did feature more as an attacking force after that – with substitute Craig Fagan denied by a splendid save from Taylor – but their increased ambition only left spaces for Fulham to exploit.
Malbranque did brilliantly down the left before slipping in Sava, who spurned a simple chance by shooting wildly into the Loft. Saha then struck the post and Sean Davis left the crossbar shaking when it seemed easier to find the back of net. John did eventually beat Taylor in stoppage time, with his venomous drive carrying too much power for the Northern Irish international, but despite the away end’s cries of ‘We’re gonna win 4-3,’ that strike was too little, too late for Bruce’s badly below-par Blues.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Taylor; Finnan, Harley, Djetou, Goma; Legwinski (Collins 76), Davis, Goldbaek, Malbranque; Saha, Sava. Subs (not used): Herrera, Melville, Willock, Hammond.
GOALS: Sava (11), Goldbaek (23), Saha (47).
BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-4-2): Vaesen; Kenna, Grainger, Coly, Hutchinson; Savage, Johnson, Devlin (Hughes 69), Powell; Kirovski (John 45), Morrison (Fagan 45). Subs (not used): Bennett, Woodhouse.
BOOKED: Devlin, Savage.
GOAL: John (90).
REFEREE: Neale Barry (North Lincolnshire).