That was painful. Fulham were excellent, but so bad were Birmingham that the victory seemed almost cruel.
Why should I care? I think it’s that about a year ago Birmingham and Fulham seemed so similar: defensively very sound, occasionally prone to lack of invention, but good enough to win enough games to stay in the league. Now we’ve moved on and Birmingham look a shambles. Today they started with the polite combination of Kevin Phillips and Matt Derbyshire up front, two decent players in the right system, but the right system is one that’ll give them chances. As it was the pair of them might as well have played conkers by the corner flag for 90 minutes for all the good they did.
And it probably isn’t their fault. Birmingham have that solid axis of Ferguson and Bowyer in the middle of the pitch, a combination that does its job fairly well, and the flair of Larsen and Bentley on the wings. So far so good, right? Not a bit of it. Somehow the whole unit ceased to be. It was like playing against a team of hungover ex-pros. In the past any attacking deficiencies have been papered over by a rugged ‘thou shalt not pass’ defence, but Fulham swept through that with ease. We scored two, and both from set pieces, but there could have been many more.
The first came after Mark Schwarzer sent a bomb of a goal kick over everyone. Ben Foster was on another planet as the ball sped towards him, his faculties returning in the nick of time for him to paw the ball wide for a corner. Smiles all around, but not for long, as Greening’s cross dropped into the six yard box, where Brede Hangeland was simultaneously soaring and stooping to head home.
Fulham were passing the ball around with great comfort, a nifty mix of nice close passing and direct pumps for AJ and Zamora to work on. These two reminded us why Roy Hodgson had liked the idea of them in the first place, and Birmingham didn’t know what to do about it. On the left Greening was a revelation, looking for all the world like a slightly trickier version of David Beckham with his twisting work against Stephen Carr (I have recently seen a photo of Stanley Matthews attacking Jimmy Langley, the duel being fought on the back of a combined 84 years of age, or similar; seeing Greening skinning the less than speedy Carr brought this to mind, for some reason). Greening’s passing and crossing was devilish, and it was nice for him to play so well on his return to the side.
On it went, men against upset but not combative boys for the most part. In the second half Fulham scored early again. Zamora missed two takeable chances, Sidwell hit the post, then another Greening corner saw chaos in the Birmingham area before Hangeland lolleyed a volley into the net from eight yards. Two for the big man.
Zamora went off and Gudjohnsen came on, and Birmingham finally got a bit of momentum, but not to the point where Fulham were troubled. Eighth place for Mark Hughes’ side, who are flying.