Second half strikes from Brian McBride and Erik Nevland guided Fulham closer to Premier League survival and pushed Birmingham nearer to relegation on a tense afternoon at Craven Cottage.
The same scorers as in last week’s win at Reading worked their magic again to leave Roy Hodgson’s men just a victory away from pulling off a quite incredible escape. McBride headed in a Jimmy Bullard free-kick seven minutes after half time to put Fulham in front and Norwegian Nevland coolly capitalised on Franck Quedrue’s late mistake to seal all three points with another assured finished at the death.
Fulham’s third win in four games lifts them out of the relegation zone for the first time since the New Year. Birmingham, though, will be cursing their concession of a two-goal lead against Liverpool at St. Andrew’s last weekend as they now have it all to do when hosting Blackburn on the final day.
The hosts settled the quicker on what was always going to be a nervy afternoon by the Thames. McBride rattled the woodwork with a header before former Fulham goalkeeper Maik Taylor magnificently denied Simon Davies from Bullard’s well-worked free-kick. Mikael Forssell had Blues’ best chances, horribly miscontrolling from Seb Larsson’s low ball in and then seeing Aaron Hughes nip in to clear James McFadden’s cross in the nick of time.
A beautiful delivery from Bullard helped Hodgson’s men going in front after the break. McBride buried a superb diving header into the bottom corner having escaped Quedrue’s attentions all too easily. The Cottage went absolutely crazy. Kamara almost doubled the lead immediately but skied a finish high into the Hammersmith End after dribbling past three Blues defenders.
Alex McCleish went to three up front throwing on Mario Zarate and Blues also grabbed a lifeline when McFadden drove fractionally wide but Fulham looked the likelier scorers. Clint Dempsey should have eased home nerves but headed over from Davies’ cross and after Raidi Jaidi had missed a free header, disaster struck in the Birmingham defence. Queudrue let a long put from Konchesky bounce and then failed to control it. The loose ball fell kindly for Nevland, who sprinted forty yards unimpeded before shooting past a helpless Taylor.
Fulham’s first home league triumph over Birmingham in forty years was assured. ‘We are staying up,’ roared the Hammersmith End. One more at Fratton Park will do it.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Keller; Stalteri, Konchesky, Hughes, Hangeland; Bullard (Andresen 88), Murphy, Dempsey (Healy 90), Davies; McBride, Kamara (Nevland 67). Subs (not used): Warner, Bocanegra.
BOOKED: Stalteri, Davies.
GOALS: McBride (52), Nevland (90).
BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-5-1): M. Taylor; Kelly, Jaidi, Ridgewell (Queudrue 46), Murphy; Larsson, Muamba, Johnson, Kapo (Zarate 58), McFadden; Forssell (Jerome 74). Subs (not used): Doyle, Parnaby.
BOOKED: Muamba, Queudrue, Jerome, Jaidi, McFadden.
REFEREE: Chris Foy (Merseyside).