Dempsey finds way to get boo boys off Hughes' back
Fulham 1 Birmingham City 1
Mark Hughes, the Fulham manager, appeared a man under pressure here yesterday before his team staged a second-half comeback to earn a point against Birmingham City courtesy of Clint Dempsey's header. The hosts were jeered off at the interval with some fans chanting "Hughes out", after they followed up last week's heavy defeat to Manchester City by falling behind to Sebastian Larsson's strike.
Sharing the spoils helps neither team, although Hughes will be the more relieved at avoiding the recriminations of defeat. "We're aware of where we are," he said. "The table is so packed, we're five points away from seventh so you can look at it that way. We'll be fine, we have too much quality and we just need to get a few players back."
Fulham have been offering supporters, for £99.99, a replica shirt to celebrate 10 consecutive years in the Premier League, although making it into a second decade is the primary concern following their recent results. Mohamed Al Fayed's visit to the Motspur Park training base on Tuesday highlighted the owner's concern over last season's Europa League finalists slipping into relegation trouble. Hughes has not been helped by injuries to his strikers. Andrew Johnson was the latest casualty when he suffered a hamstring problem in training after recovering from a knee problem that has kept him sidelined for much of the year. "We're missing key players and bringing people in with not a lot of game time but they are showing they want to be a part of it here," Hughes said.
Although they threatened in the early stages when Aaron Hughes met a corner and his effort was cleared off the line, the hosts were behind in the 20th minute from a move that started with Birmingham defending a corner.
The ball broke for Alexander Hleb and the Belarus midfielder surged forward past Hughes and Carlos Salcido and into the penalty box before picking out Larsson, unmarked, at the opposite side of the area. After taking a touch to control the ball, Larsson angled his finish into the bottom corner for his first of the season. "It was a terrific piece of play that we associate Alexander with," said Birmingham manager Alex McLeish.
It called for drastic action from Hughes, who took off Salcido and introduced John Pantsil for his first appearance since September. Pantsil, a crowd favourite who has spoken of his frustration at a lack of opportunities under Hughes, made an entrance more suitable for a rock star than a full-back, with his arms outstretched and eyes shut as he saluted the crowd. He was one of the dynamic figures in Fulham's revival after the interval.
Dempsey levelled in the 53rd minute. Simon Davies' corner was met by Zoltan Gera's header, then Dempsey climbed above Keith Fahey to nod the ball home.
Referee: Howard Webb
Man of the match: Gera
Match rating: 6/10
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