Birmingham 0-2 Fulham: Daily Mirror match report
Published 22:33 15/05/11 By Neil McLeman
On the day the winners of the other two domestic trophies made merry back in Manchester, the holders of the Carling Cup were battered and bruised in Birmingham.
Norwich City back in 1985 were the last League Cup victors to be relegated in the same season.
But Alex McLeish’s side have now won only two games in 11 since their Wembley triumph back on February 27.
And after a shambolic and gutless performance yesterday, they are now out of the bottom three by a single goal and playing like a team that deserves to go down.
Scoring six would not have flattered Fulham given the number of chances they created.
Birmingham’s Scottish manager had called on them to fight like “rotweillers” before the game but instead they rolled over like poodles.
And injuries to four players even meant they played the final 12 minutes with only ten men.
Birmingham, who travel to White Hart Lane on Sunday, still have their fate in their hands.
After staying out of the bottom three since January 4, a win and perhaps a draw will be enough to guarantee survival.
But it was the same yesterday and they were simply not up to the task.
Much has been made of the solid centre to the Birmingham defence which triumphed at Wembley.
Yet yesterday ex-England keeper Ben Foster was a nervous wreck and Brede Hangeland was the top centre-back on display with his two goals.
Mark Hughes’ personal fortune was estimated at £11m by the Sunday Times Rich List yesterday making him No 84 among Britain’s sporting stars.
Keep playing like this and he will be worth a bit more with a bumper new contract.
The Cottagers’ third away win of the season lifted them up to to eighth and a home draw with Arsenal on Sunday should see them finish in the top ten in the top flight for only the third time.
While the West London team played with freedom, the West Midlands club appeared gripped by fear.
Both managers made four changes from their previous defeats but whereas the suspended Liam Ridgewell was missing from the Blues defence, Bobby Zamora made his 350th career league appearance alongside former Blue Andy Johnson.
And in the early stages, the reunited old firm of Fulham forwards had the free run of St Andrews against the shaky home rearguard.
In only the second minute, a quick Danny Murphy free kick released Johnson but his low cross was scooped over by Clint Dempsey.
Two minutes later, Foster nearly celebrated his retirement from international football with a cock-up of England goalkeeper proportions. He completely misjudged Mark Schwarzer’s long punt and had to back-pedal furiously before pawing the bouncing ball away.
But the punishment for the slapdash start still came when Brede Hangeland powered home the resulting corner from Greening’s delivery.
The mood of anxiety around St Andrews was turning to panic with the news of West Ham’s goal at Wigan – and Fulham’s ability to fashion chances at will.
Another splendid Greening cross saw the unmarked Johnson glance his header wide and Steve Sidwell was allowed to sidle up the Blues box before shooting.
And then from another free header inside the box, Zamora powered a header against the post – again from a Greening free kick – before the former West Brom midfielder’s shot was fumbled by Foster. The game should have been all over by the half-hour.
Birmingham finally made their only chance after 34 minutes when Martin Jiranek used his chest to glance Parnaby’s cross onto the post.
Despite the boos which accompanied the home team off the break, they were just as lackadaisical during the opening frenetic minutes of the second half. First Zamora directed a header straight at Foster and the England striker then chipped tamely into the Birmingham keeper’s hands when clean through. Sidwell’s first-time shot then hit the post before Fulham finally found a second after 49 minutes. With Carson lost, Greening’s corner bounced off Jiranek in the six-yard box. Zamora’s header was cleared off the line by Barry Ferguson only for Hangeland to volley home his second.
After injuries to Bowyer, Parnaby, Jiranek and sub Alexander Hleb, Birmingham limped home a man short. It was not the best timing to stage a post-match lap of appreciation.