It’s just gone half past four on Saturday 11th May 2008 and Danny Murphy connects with a Jimmy Bullard free-kick to score a rare header and put Fulham in front at Portsmouth’s Fratton Park on the final day of the season.
If the Whites held on, we were safe to fight another campaign in the top flight. Cue 14 agonising minutes plus injury time before the final whistle sounded and the away side and travelling support celebrated wildly.
For most of the 2007/08 season, Fulham looked doomed and destined for the drop. It had started well, though. David Healy put the ball in the Arsenal net within 60 seconds of the first game. But two goals in the last six minutes saw the Gunners snatch victory.
Talisman Brian McBride then suffered a freak injury after scoring against Middlesbrough. He didn’t return until much later in the season (but boy, did he play his part). Despite considerable backing in the transfer market, Lawrie Sanchez was unable to ignite his charges and after a last-gasp defeat at home to Newcastle United, he was gone. Ray Lewington took over and a shell-shocked Whites were thumped 5-1 at Tottenham Hotspur.
The Whites were in the relegation zone when Roy Hodgson was installed as our fourth Premier League Manager in December 2007. The experts claimed this wouldn’t be enough to save Fulham from their fate. They were wrong.
But it didn’t look likely for a long time and even the most optimistic of Fulham fans seemed resigned to our inevitable fate. Performances improved under Hodgson but inconsistency continued to rear its ugly head and we didn’t record our first victory under the new boss until a 2-1 win over Aston Villa at the Cottage in early February.
Unfortunately, that failed to kick-start the team into action. One win in the next seven games saw us teetering on the edge. The 3-1 home defeat to Sunderland on 5th April left the Whites six points adrift of Birmingham City with just five games remaining. Surely that was that?
But suddenly that cruel mistress called hope came calling. Without an away win since September 2006, that trend continued until a 2-0 victory at relegation rivals Reading on 12th April. A win for the Royals would have pulled them eight points clear of Fulham. But goals from McBride and Erik Nevland proved there was life in the old dog yet.
We came back to earth with a 2-0 loss at home to Liverpool and then trailed by the same scoreline at half-time away to Manchester City. Technically we were down. With Birmingham leading and Reading holding Wigan Athletic, we were on course to be relegated.
Incredibly we stormed back to win 3-2 with three goals in the final 20 minutes. Diomansy Kamara pulled one back and Murphy levelled. Kamara then popped up in the 90th minute to win it for Fulham and suddenly the dream was once again alive. The Great Escape was on.
A must-win game against Birmingham proved fairly comfortable. Following a goalless first half, McBride and Nevland again found the target to take Fulham into the last day of the season with our fate in our own hands.
Fulham went into the match knowing a win would see us escape relegation regardless of what Reading and Birmingham did in their games, barring the Royals scoring an improbable number of goals against Derby County.
Unsurprisingly, Fulham started nervously on the south coast against a Pompey side with an FA Cup Final date the following week. Simon Davies’ early shot was the only effort on goal that Fulham managed in the first half, and news soon trickled through that results weren’t going our way.
At that point Reading and Birmingham were winning and the Whites were staring Championship football in the face. It could have been worse but Jermain Defoe stabbed a shot over the bar after being played in by Glen Johnson.
As the game ticked into the 76th minute and with the score at 0-0, the Whites were still down, with the Royals and Blues both leading in their respective games.
Still Fulham looked toothless in attack. But then it changed. Fulham won a free-kick on the right and Bullard’s pin-point delivery was met by the unmarked Murphy to head the Whites in front.
The remaining 14 minutes seemed to take forever but Fulham’s defence, with January signing Brede Hangeland imperious, stood firm and the Whites held on to secure a third consecutive away win, a fourth victory in five games and, most importantly, Premier League survival. Phew.