On a wet and grim afternoon in Birmingham, normal service continued. Fulham don’t usually win at St. Andrew’s. Mark Pembridge’s League Cup strike aside you have to go back a long way to recall an away win on this ground. In an uncharacteristically open game under Paul Bracewell on the opening day of his doomed season in charge, the Whites even managed to squander a two-goal lead not helped by Geoff Horsfield’s sending off and an own goal from Stephen Hughes.
There wasn’t as much engrossing action on Saturday. The conditions made the kind of flowing football that Roy Hodgson likes us playing difficult, but the more progressive stuff still came from Birmingham. Fulham were fairly limited, deploying a five man midfield largely due to the absence of Diomansy Kamara and Erik Nevland. Kamara remains sidelined with an ankle injury and Nevland had to return home feeling unwell, which left Bobby Zamora as our lone striker. He toiled manfully chasing long punts forward all afternoon, but Fulham only really sprung into life once Damien Duff – still devastated by the Republic’s World Cup exit in the week, according to Hodgson – was introduced with a quarter of an hour to play.
By then, Birmingham had long since established their lead with the only real moment of quality. That the goal came from a Fulham throw and promising move that broke down will have done nothing to improve Hodgson’s move. James McFadden, a man who should really be shackled by opponents looking to contain Birmingham, floated a clever ball over a rather square back line – Hangeland looked to be a little slow in pushing up for offside – and Lee Bowyer, still full of fire at 32, lifted his finish smartly beyond the onrushing Schwarzer.
The fact that Fulham had the best of the early chances and saw more of the ball in the second period counted for little. Zamora made have done better to find Zoltan Gera at the far post rather than try a shot after his early surging run. The Hungarian saw a shot bravely blocked by Roger Johnson and Fulham continued to press after half time. Joe Hart produced a fine save to keep out a Clint Dempsey header and, although Duff enlivened proceedings, it was to no avail.
The five game unbeaten run perished in the Midlands rain and Wednesday against Blackburn won’t be a walk in the park either. Saturday showed we badly missed Danny Murphy in central midfield and that Zamora probably needs a partner to avoid being isolated. The injuries can’t heal quickly enough.
BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-4-2): Hart; Carr, Ridgewell, R. Johnson, Dann; Bowyer, Ferguson, Larsson, McFadden; Benitez (Fahey 71), Jerome. Subs (not used): Taylor, Vignal, McSheffrey, Carsley, Mutch, Phillips.
GOAL: Bowyer (16).
FULHAM (4-5-1): Schwarzer; Kelly (Duff 74), Konchesky, Hughes, Hangeland; Baird (Etuhu 81), Greening, Dempsey, Gera, Davies; Zamora. Subs (not used): Zuberbuhler, Smalling, Pantsil, Riise, E. Johnson.
REFEREE: Chris Foy