Fulham's summer decision to sell goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar and Andy Cole seemed to fly in the face of ambition but at least for the time being they are holding on to Luis Boa Morte. Birmingham's manager, Steve Bruce, scoured the close season markets for strikers but was quite a long way down the queue behind those who could add more noughts to their cheques. He welcomed back Mikael Forssell, who had been with the club on loan from Chelsea and has now joined full-time for £3m which would prove a sensible outlay within the modest context of avoiding relegation although yesterday a slight injury placed him on the bench.
On a pitch that suddenly turned slippery with afternoon rain, Fulham began the slicker of the two. Boa Morte slipped in behind Tomasz Radzinski and Brian McBride, ready to take up any passes played back to him and move through at pace. But Birmingham are again not lacking in strength at the back, and the acquisition of Nicky Butt, on loan from Newcastle, has brought them some extra steel in midfield.
What was missing from Birmingham was the ability to gain any useful position in the danger areas. Emile Heskey found himself under the control of the equally substantial figures of Zat Knight and Zesh Rehman and for a long time hardly won a ball.
Neither goalkeeper was overworked in the first half, which was a relief to Fulham's Tony Warner, a 31-year-old on-loan from Cardiff. Indeed, the only serious chance came just before half-time when Fulham's Steed Malbranque broke away and found Boa Morte. Maik Taylor blocked him and Boa Morte clipped a deflected shot off the bar with his follow-up.
The second half upstaged the first, though the lack of ball control left fears for what either side would face against better quality. Julian Gray did manage to ease his way past Rehman and Sylvain Legwinski but screwed a shot across the face of the Fulham goal before Boa Morte sent a centre over for McBride to head in from an offside position.
When Forssell came on to replace the anonymous Walter Pandiani, Birmingham benefited and yet Knight remained firm and constructive in the heart of Fulham's defence. And when Forssell did break through in the 83rd minute, his firm and accurate shot was superbly held at a stretch by Warner.
Fulham deserved to keep Birmingham's few dangerous attacks at bay. On the other hand they really ought to have profited from their own.
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