Pembridge piledriver punishes Birmingham's inability to finish

Birmingham City 0 Fulham 1

As football injustices go, this was right up there in the category marked "floodlit robbery", as Birmingham were heroically held up at one end by the recalled Mark Crossley and emphatically sunk at the other by another Welsh veteran, Mark Pembridge.

With an unlikely 75th-minute swing of his right foot 25 yards out, Pembridge gave this one-sided tie a shock twist and Fulham a triumph they didn't deserve. The outcome also underlined how big-spending Birmingham have forgotten how to win.

"Praise their keeper for a start because he was outstanding," said the home manager, Steve Bruce. "But we're in a horrible, cruel run. Whether you put it down to bad finishing, you just curse your luck because the performance was good. On another evening their goal would just be a consolation."

Fulham, whose run of defeats had been stretched to three across the city at Aston Villa on Saturday, rested only Edwin Van Der Saar while Birmingham also had a pressing need for victory, born of winning only twice in 19 games ­ one of those against Lincoln City. Robbie Savage was held back and spent the night as a local radio summariser.

In the first half, Stephen Clemence, Darren Anderton, Dwight Yorke and Jesper Gronkjaer all brought the best out of Crossley. With the ball frequently worked wide to great effect, Birmingham promised a return to the victory trail after five successive league draws.

Fulham were preoccupied with survival and broke out only occasionally. Andy Cole was frustrated by Mario Melchiot's excellent tackle when looking clean through before Pembridge's deflected 30-yarder caused Maik Taylor to change direction to gather.

After a period of second-half calm, Birmingham's siege was renewed for Emile Heskey to send an overhead kick just wide and Julian Gray to produce a volley that Crossley did well to save.

It was agreeable enough entertainment on a wild evening for a crowd swelled by children charged vastly reduced prices. But their enjoyment would have been marred had Claus Jensen applied a little more force to a cheeky effort from Cole's cross.

The Fulham manager, Chris Coleman, was honest in his assessment. "We could have been four down," he admitted. "I lost count of the world-class saves Mark Crossley made. He's given me a headache now for Saturday because I can't ignore a performance like that."

Birmingham (4-4-2): Taylor; Melchiot, Cunningham (Johnson, 82), Upson, Clapham; Gronkjaer, Anderton, Clemence, Gray; Heskey, Yorke (Lazaridis, 71). Substitutes not used: Vaesen (gk), Tebily, Johnson, Martin Taylor.

Fulham (4-4-2): Crossley; Volz, Knight, Rehman, Bocanegra; Malbranque, Jensen (John, 64), Diop, Pembridge; Cole (McBride, 85), Boa Morte. Substitutes not used: Flitney (gk), McBride, Green, Rosenior.

Referee: N Barry (North Lincolnshire).

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