Reading 0 Fulham 2: McBride leads by example to give Fulham vital lifeline

Nerves get to Reading as Coppell's side slip back towards danger zone
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The Independent Football

No matter how much Roy Hodgson attempts to be the antithesis of Private Frazer in Dad's Army, claiming: "We're not doomed yet", one senses Fulham's fate is still sealed, despite a first away victory since September 2006. They probably have to win three of their four remaining games, and it is unlikely that those opponents will prove as obligingly inept as Reading were yesterday.

That said, if they are bound for the Championship, they are going there in some style. On an afternoon when the London side also struck the woodwork three times in the second half, Reading never even hinted they would prevail. In contrast, Fulham performed with a confidence which belied their lowly position, with their captain, Brian McBride, scoring the first goal and demonstrating just how much his team missed him during his lengthy absence through injury. Jimmy Bullard, another who is backfrom long-term injury, was also a forceful, influential presence.

The Fulham manager spoke of a mountain to climb, and indeed his men face a greater one than even Julie Andrewsat her most sanguine would commend them to ascend, but Hodgson insisted: "We stayed in the race today, and still have a chance. What pleased me was that we did it the right way; we played football from first to last."

His Reading counterpart, Steve Coppell, was stoical in defeat, as always, as he propounded the theory that "Fulham came here knowing they had to win, and that sometimes gives you a carefree attitude. We were uptight." He also argued that his men may have exhibited anxiety because they had not been in a position of such jeopardy before. If so, they had better start learning, and swiftly.

A Fulham free-kick found McBride unmarked, but as he shot he was denied by a fine saving tackle from Andre Bikey. There was no such saviour in the 24th minute when Simon Davies's tantalising cross saw the American half-volley home from close range. It was only the striker's third goal of the season. As Reading responded, McBride bravely headed clear at the other end when Bikey attacked Nicky Shorey's corner.

This had not been in the script for Reading who, unlike Fulham's disruptive trade of managers and players over the past year, have been a model of continuity. However, they have not been models of consistency this season, none more so than Kevin Doyle, who has not scored for 18 games. Neither he nor his compatriot Shane Long threat-ened the Fulham back-line until late in the half. Then he headed John Oster's Cross wide.

The second half became stretched as Reading thrust forward desperately for an equal-iser. In doing so, they were increasingly vulnerable at the back; notably when David Healy's deep cross found McBride, whose volley was just touched on to the bar by Marcus Hahnemann. Later, the goalkeeper performed the same feat to deny Brede Hangeland, whose header appeared goalbound.

When Bullard again struck the bar with a free-kick, Fulham must have wondered if the gods were yet to frown on them. But they survived without problem, despite Glenn Little enthusing the home crowd when he emerged from the bench for his first appearance of the season. Bikey headed over, but otherwise Reading did not create an opening. Instead, Fulham's substitute Erik Nevland gave the proceedings a more accurate gloss with a splendid finish in added time.

We had brilliant sunshine, a violent hailstorm, and finally a rainbow. The crock of gold which is Premier League survival should have been at the end of it, all wrapped up for Reading. With Bolton claiming three home points, it has left them looking afraid. Very afraid.