Portsmouth 0 Fulham 1: Hodgson keeps his cool as Fulham sweat their way to survival

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The Independent Football

When Mark Clattenburg finally blew his whistle to confirm Fulham's remarkable escape, the visitors' dugout erupted in joy, spilling substitutes, coaches and physios across Fratton Park to hug and kiss the players. Several minutes later a 60-year-old man emerged. He shook hands with the officials and went to the Portsmouth players one by one. Eventually, Roy Hodgson walked slowly towards his team as they celebrated in front of the travelling support.

Hodgson has worked in eight countries and with 15 teams in a 32-year career. That is one reason why, despite wearing a black suit, he can retain his cool on an afternoon like this, when the tension is as high as the mercury.

Against a Portsmouth side whose game has fallen to pieces as they await Saturday's FA Cup final, Fulham were paralysed by nerves. Though gifted enough possession to play their passing game they lacked the zip necessary to break down Portsmouth's defence. Reading racked up the goals at Pride Park and the drop loomed.

Then, with 14 minutes of this 3,420-minute season left, came that rarest of goals, a Danny Murphy header. Rising to a free-kick from his midfield sidekick Jimmy Bullard, he steered the ball inside the far post. Although Niko Krancjar and Jermain Defoe always carried menace Fulham held on, without real alarm, to complete a fourth win in five games, three away. Considering they had won four of their first 33, and not won on the road in more than a year, it is a revival to match West Ham's last season.

"We left it late and had a mountain to climb in the last two months," said Hodgson. "I'm delighted for everyone at the club."

Hodgson, who took charge at the turn of the year following the sacking of Lawrie Sanchez, added: "We were aware the other results were not going our way and only a win would suffice. I always thought, 'If we can make sure they don't score maybe something will come our way,' but I was worried we might go gung-ho too early, start doing things individually, start flying forward. It was important we kept playing the right way."

Fulham did, though their goal was a product of one of many solo runs by Diomansy Kamara who, for all his skills, looks too much of an individualist to fit into Hodgson's plans long-term. That can wait. For now Fulham are savouring the moment, none more so than Mohamed Al Fayed, the ebullient chairman, who was rather keener than Hodgson to party with the supporters.

Portsmouth go to Wembley on four successive defeats and one goal in five matches. Harry Redknapp said he was unconcerned, but his demeanour suggested otherwise. "I get the hump when we lose, like other managers," he said. "We've finished eighth in the league and are in the FA Cup final; it won't get any better than that."

Redknapp said he could not see Fulham scoring, until they did. In truth neither side much looked like breaking the deadlock. Krancjar and Defoe peppered Kasey Keller but only occasionally stretched him. Simon Davies tested Jamie Ashdown in the fourth minute, but Portsmouth's stand-in goalkeeper did not make another save. David James, who received a cabinet-full of player of the season awards before the game, intimated afterwards he would be fit for Wembley.

The final word went to Hodgson. Was it his greatest achievement? "I'd better say it is," said the man who won a string of championships and took Switzerland to their first World Cup in 28 years. "Whenever I talk about the other things they get ignored."

That is English football's insularity – nevertheless it may not be an exaggeration to suggest Fulham could have experienced the traumas of clubs like Coventry and QPR had Hodgson not preserved their Premier League status and their annual £30m bail-out.

Goal: Murphy (76) 0-1.

Portsmouth (4-4-2): Ashdown; Johnson, Pamarot, Distin, Hreidarsson; Utaka, Mendes (Davis, 72), Diarra (Muntari, 83), Kranjcar; Defoe, Kanu (Baros, 72). Substitutes not used: Begovic (gk), Wilson.

Fulham (4-4-2): Keller; Stalteri, Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky; Davies, Murphy, Bullard, Dempsey (Nevland, 72); McBride, Kamara (Andreasen, 82). Substitutes not used: Warner (gk), Bocanegra, Healy.

Referee: M Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear).

Man of the match: Murphy

Attendance: 29,532.