Fulham travelled to St. Andrews on Saturday without three key members of their squad. Captain Danny Murphy, Andy Johnson and Diomansy Kamara missed out through injury. All three players are expected to return to full training next week.
Fulham’s starting eleven featured former Birmingham City defender Stephen Kelly at right back in place of John Pantsil, who had played in both of Ghana’s matches during the recent international break.
In midfield Roy Hodgson welcomed back Simon Davies following the Welshman’s successful rehabilitation from an ankle injury. Following his mid-week heartbreak in Paris, Damien Duff featured on the substitutes bench with Zoltan Gera starting on the left hand side of midfield. Clint Dempsey partnered Bobby Zamora in attack.
The players were greeted by torrential rain and a fierce wind as they emerged from the tunnel for Saturday’s 3pm kick-off. The home side got the match underway.
Bobby Zamora provided the first moment of inspiration after 9 minutes of play. Receiving the ball with his back to goal down the right flank the striker produced an exquisite turn to leave his marker, Ridgewell, trailing in his wake. Zamora sprinted free into the penalty area before striking a right-footed effort across goal and just wide of Hart’s far post.
Fulham looked dangerous on the counter attack and three minutes after Zamora’s effort, Zoltan Gera flashed a header just over Hart’s goal from 16 yards, following a fine delivery from Dempsey down the right.
The home side’s first effort on goal came after 13 minutes of play. A delivery from the left flank found Jerome on the six-yard line but Schwarzer was perfectly positioned to save the striker’s headed effort.
Two minutes later Birmingham took the lead through Lee Bowyer. After Gera was dispossessed in central midfield the home side countered down the left flank and McFadden played a deft chip over Fulham’s back line. Bowyer read the pass and raced into the penalty area unchecked before chipping the ball over Schwarzer to hand Birmingham the advantage.
Bowyer’s strike was a bitter pill to swallow for Hodgson’s side after the Whites had made a bright start to the game. After going a goal behind Fulham dominated possession with some calm, assured passages of passing play in difficult conditions.
Fulham looked to utilise the pace and power of Zamora and Dempsey in attack and the pair were full of energy and running during the first period. However for all their effort Fulham could not find a way through Birmingham’s resolute defence.
As half time approached captain Aaron Hughes was left grounded after Ridgewell ran into the defender in the area following a Birmingham free kick. Hughes was forced off the pitch to receive treatment as blood poured from the defender's head wound. The Northern Ireland international was back on the pitch moments later.
Seconds before half time Hangeland headed just over Hart’s cross bar after meeting Davies’ corner 12 yards from goal. It was the final opportunity of the first 45 and Fulham could count themselves desperately unfortunate to be a goal behind at half-time.
Both sides remained unchanged for the second half and Fulham made an excellent start, dominating possession with some slick passing in difficult conditions. The continuous flow of torrential rain saw the ball zip off a sodden pitch but Fulham’s passing remained controlled and precise.
Despite being camped in Birmingham’s half as the hour mark approached, chances were few and far between. Zoltan Gera was handed the first opportunity of the second half after 62 minutes of play.
A cross from the left was controlled superbly on the chest by Zamora in the area. The ball was cushioned into Gera’s path 12 yards from goal but the Hungarian’s volley seared over the cross bar.
It was one-way traffic at St. Andrews as Birmingham failed to muster any attacking play of note as Fulham went in search of an equaliser.
Bowyer was booked after 70 minutes after a blatant foul on Dempsey as the American sprinted through Birmingham’s midfield. Dempsey was on the end of some heavy challenges on Saturday but responded with typical resilience and fight.
Dempsey almost pulled Fulham level moments later after latching onto Kelly’s cross from the right in the area. Dempsey won the aerial battle to head towards the far corner but Hart tipped the ball over the cross bar with a fine fingertip save.
With 15 minutes remaining Roy Hodgson introduced Damien Duff to the fray. Stpehen Kelly made way whilst Davies retreated to right back as Duff took on a more advanced position down Fulham’s right flank.
Dempsey produced a sublime piece of skill on 78 minutes, which almost brought the game level. Receiving the ball at chest height with his back to goal on the 18-yard line, Dempsey attempted an overhead kick but the ball flew just wide of Hart’s goal.
Duff was the next Fulham player to go agonisingly close for Fulham. The Republic of Ireland international fired a fierce 30-yard drive on Hart’s goal but the ball once again went the wrong side of the post.
Roy Hodgson made his second substitution with eight minutes remaining. Dickson Etuhu replaced Chris Baird in central midfield.
How Fulham were not at least on level terms was a mystery. The Whites had dominated possession, created the majority of opportunities on goal and played with greater attacking intent.
However Birmingham's defence held firm and Bowyer's first half goal was to be the deciding factor. Fulham threw everything at the home side in the seond half and will feel justifiably aggrieved at having come away from the game at St. Andrews without anything to show for their efforts.