Acrobatic Taylor leaps to Birmingham's rescue

Fulham 0 Birmingham City 0
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The Independent Football

The pre-match talk had been of both teams chasing a place in Europe next season. After this poverty-stricken, negative and niggling occasion, it is safe to say Milan and Madrid will not be worried places in the highly unlikely event that either team gets that far.

With a poor pitch rendered trickier by a swirling wind, Birmingham were content to filch a point. And presumably both clubs will be happy not to have added to the dismal sequence in which their last three Premiership clashes produced four red cards, not to mention a reported punch-up in the players' bar.

This time, with the referee, Mike Riley, clearly intent on keeping cautions to a minimum, the match meandered almost to half-time before the first yellow was flourished. It finished with a total of five, three against Fulham and two to Birmingham, though Steed Malbranque, Fulham's most constructive performer, was fortunate to stay on the field when, having been barged off the ball by Robbie Savage, he leapt to his feet and landed a kick on the Wales international.

Rarely did the quality of football compare to the intensity of such confrontations. Mikael Forssell never looked like adding to the 18 goals he has clocked up for Birmingham this season and Clinton Morrison missed three chances in rapid first-half succession. Maik Taylor, on loan from Fulham until he was signed by Birmingham last month, was the man responsible for denying his former employers with safe handling and, when it mattered, excellent saves from Luis Boa Morte, Barry Hayles and Malbranque.

"Maik is as good as anybody I have seen in the Premiership this year,'' said his manager, Steve Bruce. "He's got good hands and on top of that he is a top-class pro.''

The player who came closest to breaking the deadlock was Savage. Only four minutes had gone when he stole the ball from the Fulham captain, Sylvain Legwinski, and crashed a shot against Edwin van der Sar's crossbar.

When Hayles got his head firmly on the end of a Sean Davis free-kick Taylor was acrobatically equal to the effort, which remained Fulham's best until almost half-time. At this point Taylor pulled off a stunning double save from Malbranque and Boa Morte. In between came Morrison's string of misses. A wild hoof over the bar was followed by a complete air shot and then a tame, wide header.

As the stalemate and what the Fulham manager, Chris Coleman, called "the atrocious pitch'' combined to make a goalless game virtually inevitable, Fulham's supporters were reduced to cheering two runs by the full-back, Moritz Volz, from deep in his own half.

It was typical that when Malbranque produced the classiest pass of the match, virtually the width of the field, to set up Boa Morte, the Portuguese was more intent on winning a penalty than shooting. His stumble over Stan Lazaridis's challenge did not impress Mr Riley, or anyone else for that matter.

Coleman acknowledged his former keeper's excellence: "Ideally, we wanted to keep Maik, but he is not a No 2, he is a No 1 and Van der Sar was standing in his way.'' The sale might have made Fulham £1.5m richer but it probably cost them the win yesterday.

Fulham 0 Birmingham City 0

Attendance: 14,667

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