Brede Hangeland’s brace against Birmingham City at St. Andrews fired Fulham into 8th place in the Barclays Premier League table on Sunday afternoon.
Fulham’s victory over Birmingham City at St. Andrews was the perfect response from Mark Hughes’ side following Monday night’s heavy defeat to Liverpool at the Cottage.
Hughes’ team recorded their second consecutive away win on Sunday afternoon, firing Fulham into 8th place in the Barclays Premier League, with the final match of the season to be played against Arsenal at the Cottage. Should results go Fulham's way next weekend, the Club could finish the season in seventh place.
For the home side the bitter taste of defeat was made worse by the news that Charles N’Zogbia had scored a last minute winner against West Ham, leaving Birmingham in an unenviable position, residing one place above the dreaded drop zone but level on points with Blackpool and Wigan below them.
Ahead of kick-off the main talking point for Fulham’s travelling fans was the news that Mark Hughes had made four changes to his starting eleven from the team that suffered a 5-2 defeat at the hands of Liverpool.
In defence Philippe Senderos was selected in central defence, with Aaron Hughes switching to right back in place of the suspended Chris Baird. Senderos was making only his second appearance of the season following a successful recovery from a long term Achilles injury.
After picking up a calf injury against Liverpool on Monday night, Simon Davies failed to recover in time for Sunday’s match so Jonathan Greening made a rare start at right midfield. Hughes opted for Bobby Zamora and former Birmingham City striker Andrew Johnson in attack.
Having achieved Premier League safety two weeks ago with victory over Sunderland, Hughes highlighted the potential to capitalise on any tension in Birmingham’s play prior to Sunday’s game, and with the home side’s position all the more precarious following wins for Wolves and Blackpool on Saturday, it was set to be a nervous afternoon for the home fans.
Fulham were clearly looking to erase the memory of Monday’s painful defeat in double-quick time at St. Andrews with Brede Hangeland scoring the first goal of the game, and his fifth of the season, after just five minutes of play.
Remarkably, on a blustery afternoon in the Midlands, it was Mark Schwarzer who almost opened the scoring seconds before Hangeland’s goal with a long range goal kick that forced Ben Foster to concede a corner. Greening’s delivery found Hangeland who scored to give Fulham the perfect start.
After 11 minutes of play Andrew Johnson almost gave his former side a mountain to climb when he latched onto a fine delivery from Jonathan Greening but failed to find the target with a glancing header.
Greening enjoyed a fine first half on his return to the First Team. The midfielder’s deliveries from the right channel were a constant thorn in Birmingham side. On the half hour mark a Greening free-kick found an unmarked Zamora whose header hit the foot of the post with Ben Foster rooted to the spot. It was a let off for the home side and just a minute later Greening tested Foster once again with a strike from range that forced the keeper to concede a corner.
Jiranek almost pulled the home side level three minutes later in the most unorthodox of fashion by nearly chesting the ball into the net. However Fulham were by far the better team in the first half and the home side could count themselves fortunate to only be a goal behind at the break.
Birmingham’s players arrived out early for the second half with both teams remaining unchanged as the Blues got the game underway. With West Ham winning away to Wigan, it was Birmingham who desperately needed to make an early impact but it was Mark Hughes’ side that produced several chances within minutes of the restart.
After just two minutes of play Bobby Zamora almost scored twice in as many minutes. First the striker, left completely unmarked, was picked out by Murphy, but his header fell straight into Foster’s arms. Sixty seconds later Zamora tried the spectacular, attempting to chip Foster but the keeper had the attempt covered.
Steve Sidwell went even closer for Fulham a minute later, striking the post, but there was no denying Brede Hangeland who scored his second of the game to put Fulham two-nil up after 49 minutes, again from a corner. On this occasion Hangeland hooked the ball home after Zamora’s effort was cleared off the line.
After Fulham had doubled their lead both managers made changes. Bobby Zamora, who appeared to be struggling, was replaced by Eidur Gudjohnsen, whilst for Birmingham, Lee Bowyer made way for Hleb. A second change for the home side came just a few minutes later, with Beausejour replacing Parnaby.
Fulham’s disciplinary record took a further knock on Sunday following the spate of yellow card the Team received against Liverpool on Monday. In the second half on Sunday Murphy, Salcido, Johnson, Gudjohnsen and Dempsey were all booked. The impact on Fulham’s position in the Fair Play League and subsequent chances of appearing in next season’s Europa League will only be known at the end of the season.
Mark Hughes made his second change of the game after 72 minutes, with Dickson Etuhu coming on for Danny Murphy. Fulham rarely looked troubled during the latter stages of the game and were more than comfortable protecting their two-nil lead. There was a brief appearance for Zoltan Gera towards the end of the match as Hughes’ side cruised to victory.
Fulham now go into next weekend’s final match of the season against Arsenal at the Cottage knowing that a win could secure them a seventh place finish if Everton fail to gain a result against Chelsea at Goodison Park and Fulham retain their superior goal difference.