Saha's return inspires Fulham to exact sweet revenge

Fulham 3 Birmingham City 1

By Jason Burt
Monday 06 January 2003 01:00
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Fulham's fragile psyche received a timely boost in a competition in which they went all the way to the semi-finals last year.

The therapy was provided by a Birmingham City side shorn of five central defenders and lacking in purpose. The "dogs of war" were given the day off and it was not until the 55th minute that a player was booked.

The day started in apprehension and ended in catharsis, with the home side exorcising the demons of the two League encounters with Birmingham this season which have ended in a flurry of cards and only one point.

Instead, there were able to score three goals for the first time since beating Liverpool here in November and could easily have ended with double. Even more importantly, they stopped a disquietening sequence of not scoring in their three previous home games.

Unfortunately for Fulham just 9,203 people turned up to watch, with, judging by the banners hanging from the stands, several preoccupied with the row over whether or not they will ever return to Craven Cottage.

The catalyst was the return of Louis Saha, the striker who has been missing for the past four months due to a hamstring injury. In contrast Birmingham's main striker, Clinton Morrison, endured a miserable afternoon and was substituted at half-time.

His manager, Steve Bruce, may well have been better off playing Morrison's mother, Angela, who was banished from the players' lounge for this game after a dust-up with Fulham's Rufus Brevett after the last League tussle. She would have shown more fight than her son, who was clearly affected by regular abuse from the crowd.

Bruce gave a debut at right-back to the aggressive loan signing Ferdinand Coly, who played for Senegal during the World Cup, but was unable to field Christophe Dugarry after international clearance did not come through. Quite what the Frenchman would have made of his new team-mates is another matter, with Bruce admitting it was their worst performance in six months.

With these two sides lying 15th and 16th in the Premiership, it is clear where the priorities lie. But while Birmingham will probably admit that, given their squad limitations, a Cup run was the last thing they needed, for Fulham it may kick-start their season.

Birmingham were forced to pair the 20-year-old Joey Hutchinson, making his second appearance, with the veteran Jeff Kenna at centre-back. It was the first time Birmingham's captain had played there – and it showed.

Fulham's assistant manager Christian Damiano said the key was that his side scored early. "It was the big difference today. After that it changed the face of the game."

Facundo Sava picked up the ball after being fed by Steed Malbranque, who had robbed Coly. The Argentinian drifted to the edge of the penalty area, steadied himself and drove a shot which, although Nico Vaesen got a hand on it, was strong enough. It prompted another masked celebration.

The second goal came on 22 minutes, with Bjarne Goldbaek seizing on a deflected half-clearance, driving into the box and shooting powerfully. As the goals flowed so did Fulham's football and Saha, who provided more cutting edge than the injured Steve Marlet, claimed the third seconds after half-time.

The Frenchman span on the edge of the area, after being fed by Sava, and curled his shot past the goalkeeper. Suddenly they were rampant.There was even time for an appearance by John Collins, possibly his last for Fulham. Saha rattled the post and Sean Davis thumped the rebound off the bar, but the only other goal came from the Birmingham substitute Stern John, who finished impressively after bringing the ball down in injury time and volleying home.

It did not prevent the smiles returning for Fulham with Saha, the main instigator. "Perhaps he will be the joker for us," said Damiano.

Goals: Sava (10) 1-0; Goldbaek (22) 2-0; Saha (46) 3-0; John (90) 3-1.

Fulham (4-4-2): Taylor; Finnan, Harley, Djétou, Goma; Legwinski (Collins, 75), Davis, Malbranque, Goldbaek; Saha, Sava. Substitutes not used: Herrera (gk), Melville, Willock, Hammond.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Vaesen; Coly, Kenna, Hutchinson, Grainger; Devlin (Hughes, 68), Savage, Powell, Johnson; Kirovski (Fagan, h-t), Morrison (John, h-t). Substitutes not used: Bennett (gk), Woodhouse.

Referee: N Barry (North Lincolnshire).

Bookings: Birmingham: Devlin, Savage.

Man of the match: Saha.

Attendance: 9, 203.

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