Birmingham 1 Fulham 1
At St Andrews this afternoon, the spoils were shared in a keenly contested fixture.
The result drops Fulham two places in the table, a harsh reward for a hard earned draw but the performance gave the watching Fulham faithful, and the new manager Roy Hodgson, plenty of hope for the New Year.
After coming a right cropper in the Boxing Day fixture at White hart Lane, our caretaker manager, Ray Lewington, chose to revert to the tried and trusted 4-4-2 and made five changes with Hughes, KI-Hyeon, Baird, Kamara and Smertin all paying the price for that 5-1 drubbing.
In came Omozusi, Davis, Stefanovic, Healy and Bouazza as the faithful hoped that the awful away record could finally be ended.
Prior to the game Lewington had described the fixture as our cup final and Fulham started off at a fair pace and left the home side chasing shadows.
In the opening exchanges Healy shot just past the post whilst Bouazza also troubled the Birmingham defence.
Indeed, it only took Fulham eight minutes to take the lead. The goal came after a Bouazza cross had been turned behind by Kelly. From the resulting corner, taken by Davies, Bocanegra turned the ball into the net.
Birmingham couldn`t react to the early goal and for the remainder of the second half Fulham produced the kind of performance that belies our current possession.
We were 'tigerish` in midfield and cottoned on to almost every second ball as Birmingham felt the wrath of the home crowd. When the half time whistle blew, we all wondered if we could keep it up.
At half time Alex McLeish made a change, replacing Johnson with Nafti, and it proved to be a critical decision for the remainder of the match.
Suddenly Birmingham, aided by superb play from Nafti, went up a couple of gears. The crowd responded to the change in performance and suddenly Fulham were up against it.
In the fifty-fifth minute, the home side equalised when Larssen saw his shot deflected past Niemi. The home side looked the more likely to win and Nafti almost broke our hearts with a scorching shot that flew just over the bar.
Thankfully, Fulham showed tremendous resolve and the introduction of Kuqi suddenly started to see the balance of play become more even.
With the game drifting towards a stalemate Birmingham were given a lifeline when Mark Clattenburg sent off Bouazza for an alleged two footed challenge.
Fulham now had to withstand one last onslaught and they did so with enormous resilience.
We may have dropped two places but onwards and upwards has to be the new motto with Hodgson about to take over and prepare us for a clash with near-neighbours, Chelsea on New Years Day.
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