Birmingham caught on hop by Diop

Birmingham City 1 - Fulham 2
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The Independent Football

Premier League? You're having a laugh. Both sides will survive the drop, but not by much. Things are getting increasingly tight for Birmingham in particular after their fourth consecutive League defeat, but Fulham are now unbeaten since losing to Birmingham on 28 December last year and rise to 13th.

Premier League? You're having a laugh. Both sides will survive the drop, but not by much. Things are getting increasingly tight for Birmingham in particular after their fourth consecutive League defeat, but Fulham are now unbeaten since losing to Birmingham on 28 December last year and rise to 13th.

Fulham's Papa Bouba Diop continued to make a name for himself with his second late winner in a week. The Senegalese midfielder is the scourge of the Midlands, having beaten West Brom with a last- minute header last Sunday and repeated the trick here, albeit eight minutes from time. Birmingham were on course for a repeat of their December win at Craven Cottage, having taken the lead through a Moritz Volz own goal six minutes into the second half, before Fulham struck twice in the space of five minutes. The equaliser came from a controversial Andy Cole penalty and Diop finished Birmingham off with a free header.

Birmingham's manager, Steve Bruce, made a rare attack, for him, on the referee, Phil Dowd. The official had earlier booked Luis Boa Morte for a perceived dive over Birmingham's keeper, Maik Taylor, and gave the penalty, also involving Boa Morte, even though the challenge by Damien Johnson was a yard outside the area.

Bruce was also angry about a challenge he had spotted on the on-loan Liverpool midfielder Salif Diao in the build-up. Bruce said: "The referee made a howler. It was not marginal stuff, but blatant. I don't normally criticise referees as they have a hard job, but those decisions killed us."

Birmingham could have had a penalty themselves when Boa Morte appeared to shove Mario Melchiot in the back when Birmingham were one-up. "I think luck evens itself out," said the Fulham manager, Chris Coleman. "But I am happy with the way we battled back. We didn't deserve to lose and were rewarded for our efforts."

The second half of this game was a definite improvement on the first, which must rank as one of the most appalling in Premiership history. Bruce said it was "a massive match", but this was probably the least attractive and consequential Premiership game yesterday for those not connected with either club. Fortunately there was more action in eight minutes of the second period than in the entire first half. Boa Morte shot inches wide a minute after the restart and Emile Heskey appeared to score at the far post in the 51st minute before it emerged that Volz had turned Melchiot's low cross over the line.

Taylor made an impressive save to deny Cole an equaliser 60 seconds later and Boa Morte was then booked for apparently diving over the keeper. Birmingham seemed to be cruising to victory before Fulham battled back in the driving, sleety snow. First came the 78th- minute Cole penalty after Dowd decided Boa Morte had gone down - this time - legitimately, following Johnson's tackle. Then, in the 83rd minute, Mark Pembridge chipped in a free-kick from the left and Diop jumped with confidence to score with a powerful header. He was booked by the appalling Dowd for his delirious celebrations, but did not look too bothered.

Fulham substitute Collins John, though not on the pitch, appeared to take things a step further, and was reported to police for allegedly swearing at some Birmingham fans at the Railway End after the winning goal. "The fourth official said there had been an incident," said Coleman. "Collins got involved with a few words between him and spectators."

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