Fulham dragged themselves away from the very edge of relegation yesterday when they came back from two goals down to beat Manchester City. They are still tottering on the precipice but there is the vaguest of hopes.
The win means that they are still second bottom and three points adrift of safety but even that rickety launch pad looked way beyond them when they were behind with 20 minutes to go. Then substitute Diomansy Kamara scored twice – the second deep into stoppage time – and Danny Murphy got another. Fulham's supporters did not start singing "The Great Escape" – presumably they were too shocked.
It was a dramatic reversal of fortune for the Londoners whose chairman, Mohamed Al Fayed, spent most of the week encouraging the players to believe that disappearing into the Championship after seven years with the elite was not inevitable.
They will be converts now because their Premier League life appeared to be ebbing away when Stephen Ireland and Benjani Mwaruwari put City 2-0 ahead in 21 minutes. Now next week's home game against Birmingham City suddenly takes on a huge significance. "We have given ourselves a giant shot in the arm," Roy Hodgson, the Fulham manager, said, "and we have brought ourselves into some sort of contention when most people had written us off. The quality of football we have showed for a long period now has not got the reward it deserved but today we got that little piece of luck." City's manager Sven Goran Eriksson was as close to angry as the placid Swede ever gets. "We stopped playing and you can't do that against anyone in the Premier League," he said. "We have no one to blame but ourselves. We gave it away."
Eriksson's analysis could not be faulted. City were ahead within 10 minutes, 2-0 up shortly after and had three ample chances to win the game after Fulham had made the game 2-2. Not for nothing did Francis Lee christen them the "cock-up club".
Fulham began brightly and Clint Dempsey was denied only by a Joe Hart save low to his left after six minutes. The Londoners' recent history has been one of false hopes, however, and that bright start dimmed considerably within quarter of an hour.
City took the lead in the 10th minute when Paul Stalteri was caught in possession on the edge of his area, Martin Petrov back-heeled to exacerbate the confusion and Ireland curled a shot beyond Kasey Keller into the top corner.
Jimmy Bullard tested Hart's reflexes with a 25-yard shot but the sense of doom grew around the Londoners after 21 minutes when City went 2-0 ahead.
Elano, playing as an emergency right-back, showed that a change of position would not necessarily stem his creativity with a glorious pass down the right flank. Darius Vassell's pace allowed him to catch the ball just short of the byline and when he pulled it back Benjani burst into the area to prod home. Hodgson had to do something and he introduced Kamara to almost immediate effect just after the hour. The striker had been on the pitch only six minutes when he chased a long ball and confused Vedran Corluka with two changes of direction and then shot through Hart's legs.
Two minutes later the City goalkeeper had to leap to his right to deny Bullard's free-kick, but with time running out on Fulham's chances of surviving the drop, they equalised with 11 minutes to go. An innocuous cross from the left became more significant when another Fulham substitute Erik Nevland tangled with Sun Jihai and the City defender was adjudged to have pulled him down. Murphy's penalty was saved by Hart but he followed up the rebound.
Fulham pressed forward, Benjani, Vassell and Petrov squandered chances to wrap up the victory but with the game going into stoppage time, it suddenly had a dramatic denouement.
Murphy delivered a delightful pass down the left and Kamara shot away from his markers. It was a matter of whether the Senegal striker would keep his head and he did, side-footing past Hart. The Fulham supporters who had been numbed into near silence by the events of the first 70 minutes could barely believe it. They were not alone.