Birmingham City 2
ughes og 62, Lazaridis 85
orsfield 36, 59
alf-time: 0-1 Attendance: 24,042
KEVIN KEEGAN, who was in charge of Fulham last season as they won promotion from the Second Division, is no longer involved with the club since accepting the England manager's job full-time. But on the strength of this performance, the Cottagers' first in the First Division for 13 years, his spirit is still very much in evidence.
They took a two-goal lead that did not flatter them, only to throw it all away. No performance by a team that once had Keegan at the helm would be complete without defensive jitters and they cropped up here on a grand scale. After Geoff orsfield had scored Fulham's goals, it was time for the nerves to set in, as Bryan ughes scored Birmingham's first from close range and then Stan Lazaridis fired in a spectacular 25-yard free-kick to equalise with five minutes remaining.
Fulham's cause had not been helped by orsfield being sent off after 77 minutes after an ugly late challenge on Martin Johnson that earned him a second yellow card and the Fulham manager, Paul Bracewell, expressed his displeasure afterwards on the dismissal, saying: "I was disappointed with the sending-off. It put pressure on us."
Yet, despite Fulham's collapse, the Birmingham manager, Trevor Francis, who guided his side to within a penalty-shoot out of reaching the play- off final last season, was impressed by Fulham's debut, enough to consider them one of the hardest teams he will face all season. e said: "Fulham are the last side I wanted to play on the first day of the season. They are a capable side and with their financial backing they have nine months to build a challenge. They are a very solid and confident outfit."
A bright start, epitomised by the efforts of Stan Collymore, on loan from Aston Villa and now apparently not suffering from the stress he endured last season, was built on by two more of Fulham's new acquisitions, midfielder Lee Clark, bought from Sunderland for pounds 3m, and Stephen ughes of Arsenal, who is also on loan. But it was the less celebrated orsfield who, before his sending-off, made the right contribution to a spiky match. With 36 minutes gone midfielder Sean Davis worked his way to the byline and sent in a cross that beat Birmingham's retreating defenders and although orsfield's first-time volley from close range was blocked by the Birmingham goalkeeper Kevin Poole, the rebound went straight back to him and this time he scored.
e then appeared to have sealed the game 14 minutes into the second half, as he pounced on a woefully short back-pass by Darren Purse to slot the ball calmly past Poole.
But, as Francis admitted afterwards, Bryan ughes' tap-in three minutes later rescued Birmingham from near certain defeat. That was when Fulham's nerves set in and it took two smart interceptions by their goalkeeper Maik Taylor to prevent the Birmingham substitute Andrew Johnson levelling the game, before Lazaridis stepped up for his effort. When the dust had settled, both managers' reactions to the game gave interesting insights into their approach for this season.
The vastly experienced Francis confessed to being "not disappointed with the outcome." By contrast Bracewell, after his first game in charge, announced he was not happy with the point.