Blues fate in the balance
A Brede Hangeland brace sealed a 2-0 win for Fulham over Birmingham, who are just one goal clear of the relegation zone.
Last Updated: 15/05/11 6:57pm
A goal in either half from Brede Hangeland sealed a 2-0 win for Fulham over Birmingham, who are just one goal clear of the Premier League relegation zone.
The Blues will head into the final day of the season in 17th position, one goal better off than Blackpool and two clear of Wigan.
Fulham controlled Sunday's game at St Andrews from start to finish, breaking the deadlock after just five minutes following a positive start.
Birmingham rarely threatened, and they suffered a similar start to the second half as they did the first, with Hangeland doubling his tally four minutes after the restart.
The Blues played out the final ten minutes a man short, as an injury to Alex Hleb forced the Belarusian off with Alex McLeish having made all three changes.
Carling Cup holders Birmingham, lacking several key players through injury and suspension, produced arguably their worst performance of the season.
City visit Tottenham next Sunday while the Tangerines are away to Manchester United and Wigan travel to Stoke.
Fulham boss Mark Hughes could not have imagined his players having such a stroll to victory and only poor finishing prevented them from at least doubling the final victory margin.
The Blues defence was at sixes and sevens and could not cope with Bobby Zamora, Andy Johnson and Clint Dempsey.
They were not allowed to settle in midfield and posed the minimum of threat up front without the pace and energy of the injured Cameron Jerome as an outlet.
To add to their woes Lee Bowyer, Stuart Parnaby and Martin Jiranek all had to be substituted through injury even before Hleb limped out.
Dempsey missed a great chance to put Fulham ahead after two minutes.
Former City striker Andy Johnson sent a low ball across the six-yard area and Dempsey spooned his shot over the bar with the goal at his mercy.
The Blues looked nervous and Ben Foster had to parry aside a massive clearance from Mark Schwarzer at full stretch.
But from the resulting corner Hangeland put the Cottagers in front.
The Birmingham defence was undone by Jonathan Greening's corner and the unmarked Hangeland powered home a header from close range.
Fulham were now threatening to score everytime they ventured forward and Andy Johnson glanced a header wide from Greening's cross.
They came close to doubling their lead after half an hour when Zamora crashed a header against the post from a Greening free-kick.
Against the run of play, City almost levelled after 34 minutes when Martin Jiranek's flick grazed the outside of a post from Parnaby's left-wing centre.
Kevin Phillips had his first chance after 41 minutes and his header was deflected wide from Sebastian Larsson's first decent cross of the game.
Blues were back-pedalling from the start of the second period and Zamora missed two great chances in quick succession.
He got on the end of an Aaron Hughes square ball but directed his header straight at Foster from close range.
Then Zamora found himself with only Foster to beat but his attempted chip was easily read by the Blues keeper.
Fulham were in complete control and moments later Steve Sidwell crashed a low shot against the post with the home defence in disarray.
And it came as no surprise when Hangeland made it 2-0 after 49 minutes.
Zamora's header was cleared off the line from Greening's corner but Hangeland pounced to flick the rebound into the far corner.
Zamora picked up a knock and was replaced by Eidur Gudjohnsen, who was quick to test Foster with a low drive.
Andy Johnson, Carlos Salcido and Danny Murphy were booked in quick succession for dissent, time-wasting and fouling David Bentley respectively.
Gudjohnsen became the fourth Fulham player to be yellow-carded for tripping Hleb, which resulted in the Belarusian being forced off.
Thereafter, the Cottagers controlled the final minutes with greater ease, strengthening their chances of a top half finish.