Reading 0 Fulham 2: Hodgson pleads caution even as Fulham discover reserves of hope

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The Independent Football

The dross delivered in the first half at the Madejski Stadium rather gave the lie to the Premier League's claim to be the globe's best, regardless of having three teams in the last four of the Champions League. But what cannot be disputed is the Darwinian ruthlessness of the competition. A couple of injuries, a poor management decision, and an apparently secure club can come loose from its mooring and drift towards the Championship.

Take Blackburn, the epitome of upper mid-table stability. Were Mark Hughes to leave this summer and be inadequately replaced, then David Bentley and Roque Santa Cruz suffer serious injuries, they might easily slide into danger.

That is what happened at Fulham. Lawrie Sanchez was appointed on the strength on one misleading result, then Brian McBride joined Jimmy Bullard on the injury list.

Fulham began the season badly, and got worse. Roy Hodgson, for all his vast experience, has struggled to halt the slide but McBride and Bullard are now back, and match-fit. On Saturday they were key to a result which revived Fulham's dwindling survival hopes. McBride scored the opening goal and Bullard, with his energy and composure, ensured they would go on to win away from home for the first time in 19 months and 33 matches.

The challenge now, admitted Danny Murphy, is to secure back-to-back wins for the first time this season. Next up, Liverpool. But which Liverpool?

In an uncanny echo of last season a relegation-haunted Fulham meet a Liverpool side with eyes on a bigger prize. Last May Rafael Benitez travelled to Craven Cottage without seven of the men who would line up, 18 days later, in the European Cup final. Gabriel Paletta and Emiliano Insua played, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher did not. Fulham won, their only victory in five games under Sanchez's caretaker management, and only did that as Robbie Fowler missed a penalty. Sanchez got the job permanently after Fulham stayed up by a point at the expense of Sheffield United. Their former manager, Neil Warnock, has never forgiven Benitez.

This time Liverpool go to Fulham three days before meeting Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final. Do not expect to see Pepe Reina, Gerrard, Carragher or Fernando Torres in west London.

"You don't really want to be playing Liverpool, but they might rest a few," Murphy said. "I will speak to the boys this week and, hopefully, Stevie, Torres and a few others will stay at home. It's a great opportunity."

Hodgson was less chirpy. "We don't know they will rest players, and even their reserve team doesn't look too bad. There are one or two there most managers would like to work with so we might come down to earth with a bump."

True enough, but on the evidence of the second half Fulham could give most first teams a game. The defence looks porous but they were stylish going forward, with both goals well made. McBride turned in Simon Davies' cross after David Healy's clever pass; then Davies played a slick one-two with Erik Nevland before releasing the Norwegian to score. In between McBride, Brede Hangeland and Bullard hit the bar.

The first two's attempts were tipped on to the woodwork by Marcus Hahnemann, the only Reading player to rise above mediocre. "The dressing room is angry, subdued, confused," said the injured club captain Graeme Murty. "People are very down." Paralysed by nerves, Reading may yet need to play their joker to survive – Derby away on the last day of the season.

Goals: McBride (24) 0-1; Nevland (90) 0-2.

Reading (4-4-2): Hahnemann; Rosenior, Ingimarsson, Bikey, Shorey; Oster (Little

60), Harper, Matejovsky (Cisse 77), Hunt;

Doyle, Long (Kitson 60). Substitutes not used: Federici (gk), Sonko.

Fulham (4-4-2): Keller; Stalteri, Hangeland, Hughes, Konchesky; Davies, Bullard, Murphy (Andreasen 90), Dempsey (Bocanegra 85); Healy (Nevland 83), McBride. Substitutes not used: Warner (gk), Kamara.

Referee: R Styles (Hampshire).

Booked: Fulham Stalteri.

Man of the match: Bullard.

Attendance: 24,112.

The fight for survival

*READING 16th (32pts)

19 April Arsenal (a)

26 April Wigan (a)

3 May Spurs (h)

11 May Derby (a)

*FULHAM 19th (27pts)

19 April Liverpool (h)

26 April Man City (a)

3 May Birmingham (h)

11 May Portsmouth (a)

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