Roy Hodgson takes over tomorrow at Craven Cottage. Although his new side didn’t win at Birmingham this afternoon, Hodgson will have been encouraged by what he saw from Fulham in the Midlands. Usually dire travellers, the relegation struggles made a bright start and controlled the first half in a display that was full of determination to impress the new manager.
In a bright opening period, David Healy shot agonisingly wide and Simon Davies whipped in a series of dangerous corners. There were familiar defensive frailities but they rarely came to the surface, such as when Gary McSheffrey sprinted into space behind the Fulham defence, who were bailed out by the Scot’s glaring failure to finish.
The visitors made McSheffrey pay for that miss. Another Davies corner caused carnage in the Birmingham box and Carlos Bocanegra pounced to head Fulham into a deserved lead from close range. Healy might have doubled their advantage but for a smart save from his compatriot and former Fulham goalkeeper Maik Taylor.
There were signs of a mini-Birmingham revival towards the end of the first half as Mikael Forrssell saw a daisycutter held by Antti Niemi and, fired up by what must have been a robust half time team-talk, the home side emerged to dominate much of the second period. Mehdi Nafti replaced Damien Johnson and became increasingly influential as the Blues saw much more of the ball.
It took just ten minutes for Birmingham to restore parity. A superb raking ball from Fabrice Muamba sent Sebastien Larsson free down the left. The Swede came inside to fashion the angle for a shot, which deflected off the unfortunate Elliot Omozusi and left Niemi completely stranded. There then followed a spell of rentlessness Birmingham pressure. A Nafti curler flew fractionally wide of the far post and Niemi did brilliantly to prevent ex-Fulham left back Franck Queudrue from putting the home side in front.
Fulham emerged unscathed from that bout of nervousness and made have reestablished their earlier lead when Hameur Bouazza strode purposefully towards the area and sent a shot a matter of inches over Taylor’s crossbar. The Algerian’s next contribution wasn’t so impressive. A late challenge on Queudrue earned him a second yellow card and left Fulham needing to negotiate a tricky final eleven minutes with ten men. They did and their heart will have impressed Hodgson.
BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; Kelly, Quedrue, Jaidi, Ridgewell; Muamba, Johnson (Nafti 45), Larsson (de Ridder 73), McSheffrey; Forssell (O’Connor 77), Jerome. Subs (not used): Doyle, Sadler.
GOAL: Larsson (55).
FULHAM (4-4-2): Niemi; Omozusi, Konchesky, Stefanovic, Bocanegra; Davis, Murphy (Smertin 70), Dempsey, Davies, Bouazza; Dempsey, Healy (Kuqi 74). Subs (not used): Warner, Leijer, Kamara.
BOOKED: Bouazza, Konchesky, Davies.
SENT OFF: Bouazza (79).
GOAL: Bocanegra (8).
REFEREE: Mark Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear)