Danny Murphy’s second half header was enough to clinch Fulham’s survival on a nerve-wracking day at Fratton Park. The England midfielder headed home Jimmy Bullard’s free kick to secure the narrowest of victories for Roy Hodgson’s men as the Whites pulled off a great escape on the south coast – winning three Premier League games in a row for the first time in the club’s history.
Victory was essential to keep the Londoners in the top flight, especially as Birmingham and Reading were doing their part to beat the drop by winning their matches. But on an afternoon of unparalled tension, Hodgson’s side created level in the way of clear-cut chances and were perhaps grateful that Portsmouth had an FA Cup final on the horizon. John Utaka did brilliantly down the left but couldn’t find a team-mate as his low cross flashed across the goalmouth and Jermain Defoe blazed over the bar from Glen Johnson’s ball, whilst the visitors could only muster a tame Simon Davies shot on target in the entire first 45 minutes.
Murphy had a header saved at the start of the second half, but Kasey Keller kept Fulham’s clean sheet intact with fine saves from a Niko Kranjcar long-range and Defoe. Bullard had a free-kick deflected over and the visitors, who had sent on Erik Nevland in search of another late goal, began to probe more frenetically. It was Bullard who prised open the Pompey defence with a deep delivery from the wide right channel. It floated more than forty yards for Murphy, who had been a doubt to play after his young son suffered illness on earlier in the day, to plant a downward header past Jamie Ashdown’s dive and sparked delirium in front of the away fans.
That gave Fulham something to hang on to. But they had fifteen minutes to hold on. Nevland nearly nicked a second on the break shortly afterwards and Hodgson’s men admirably repelled a succession of home high balls from as four minutes of added time ticked by. Then, Mark Clattenburg’s final whistle sounded, and the party could begin. Fulham – fantastically – were finally safe.
PORTSMOUTH (4-4-2): Ashdown, Johnson, Distin, Pamarot, Hreidarsson, Utaka, Diarra (Muntari 83), Pedro Mendes (Davis 73), Kranjcar, Defoe, Kanu (Baros 73). Subs (not used): Begovic, Wilson.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Keller; Stalteri, Konchesky, Hughes, Hangeland; Bullard, Murphy, Davies, Dempsey (Nevland 72); McBride, Kamara (Andreasen 85). Subs (not used): Warner, Bocanegra, Healy.
GOAL: Murphy (76).
REFEREE: Mark Clattenburg (County Durham).