Chris Coleman will take plenty of positives from Fulham’s opening day draw with Birmingham City – and the Welshman might have been left scratching his head wondering how the Whites didn’t manage to force a win.
New Fulham captain Luis Boa Morte rattled the bar in an enterprising display that only lacked the finishing touch to make it a perfect afternoon. There was an impressive debut for new left back Niclas Jensen, who successfully shutdown Jermaine Pennant, and on-loan goalkeeper Tony Warner kept a clean sheet having been drafted in from Cardiff on Wednesday, although he didn’t have an awful lot to do.
Coleman continued with the 4-4-2 formation that carried Fulham to safety last season, pairing Tomasz Radzinski with Brian McBride up front and the pair’s early energy unsettled the Birmingham defence. Radzinski wasted a good chance when he fired over from eight yards before McBride also drove off target from a cute Boa Morte header. Former Fulham number one Maik Taylor fielded a far post header from Radzinski and Moritz Volz reflected Fulham’s utter domination by popping up in the penalty area, but took too long to pull the trigger.
Warner’s first save was a simple one from an Emile Heskey header at a free-kick and Fulham nearly snuck ahead in stoppage when a rapid break saw Malbranque link with McBride, who squared for Boa Morte. The Portuguese winger’s initial attempt was brilliantly blocked by Taylor and Boa Morte’s follow-up crashed off the crossbar.
Collins John was denied an immediate impact having replaced Radzinski at half-time by an offside flag and Fulham were nearly stunned when Julian Gray produced a mesmerising run that took him away from Knight and Sylvain Legwinski, but the winger’s shot flew harmlessly wide of goal.
Fulham were again thwarted by an offside flag midway through the second half when McBride headed home a terrific Boa Morte cross – with television pictures suggesting it was a contentious decision. Birmingham did put together a strong finish as Mikael Forrsell and Clinton Morrison drew saves from Warner late on but in truth Steve Bruce’s men were fortunate to leave London with a share of the spoils.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Warner; Volz, N. Jensen, Knight, Rehman; Legwinski (Elrich 90), C. Jensen, Malbranque, Boa Morte; McBride, Radzinski (John 45). Subs (not used): Batista, Leacock, Helguson.
BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; Melchiot, Upson, Cunningham; Clapham, Pennant, Butt, Clemence, Gray; Heskey (Morrison 87), Pandiani (Forssell 71). Subs (not used): Vaesen, Izzet, Lazaridis.
BOOKED: Clemence, Upson.
REFEREE: Rob Styles (Hampshire).