Nicky Butt’s late winner handed Birmingham their first home league win of the season over Fulham at St. Andrew’s this afternoon.
The England international was in the perfect position to turn home Emile Heskey’s cutback and end Birmingham’s miserable run of just a single point from their last seven home games – sparking joyous scenes amongst the St. Andrew’s faithful. The Blues might have just about deserved it having put together a far better display than during the defeat by West Ham with Bruce’s call for a return to the uncompromising approach that characterised their first two top flight campaigns heeded.
The hosts were in charge of the first half but couldn’t find a breakthrough before Butt’s first goal for Blues proved decisive. For much of the adventure it look as though Bruce would be left frustrated again by poor finishing as Heskey, Stephen Clemence and Butt himself all squandered glorious chances in the first 45 minutes. Heskey was a threat to Fulham defence throughout, delivering a classical centre forward’s performance full of dangerous movement and unstinting hold up play.
Fulham weathered the storm well with Zat Knight, a boyhood Aston Villa fan, looking very assured at the heart of their backline but they remain without an away win this season and the defeat keeps them very much in a relegation battle of their own. David Dunn mustered the only shot on target at the end of the first half, although the midfielder will have been disappointed with the quality of his free-kick which didn’t overly extend Mark Crossley.
Fulham threatened mostly on the break with Luis Boa Morte and Zat Knight shooting wide before Brian McBride headed over the bar from Tomasz Radzinski’s cross. John almost connected with a fine Steed Malbranque delivery at the start of the second half but couldn’t stretch enough to reach it after losing his marker.
Bruce brought on Jermaine Pennant for Stan Lazaridis and the substitute immediately perked up Birmingham’s attack with a fierce strike straight at Crossley after Heskey had teed him up. The England striker then headed straight at Fulham’s goalkeeper after being picked up by Dunn, who curling effort from the edge of the area was subsequently well stopped by Crossley.
Clemence almost capped a fine game at the heart of the Birmingham midfield but headed straight at Crossley and it looked like Blues would be frustrated until Butt nipped in to break Fulham hearts with six minutes left.
BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-5-1): Vaesen; Tebily (Jarosik 69), Cunningham, Upson, Painter; Johnson, Butt, Clemence, Lazaridis (Pennant 53), Dunn (Clapham 74); Heskey. Subs (not used): Maik Taylor, Pandiani.
GOAL: Butt (84).
FULHAM (4-4-2): Crossley; Rosenior, Bocanegra, Goma, Knight; Christanval, Legwinski, Malbranque, Radzinski; McBride, John.
Subs (not used): Warner, N. Jensen, Pearce, Elrich, Helguson.
REFEREE: Uriah Rennie (South Yorkshire).