Premier League – Murphy keeps Fulham up
A late goal by Danny Murphy gave Fulham a 1-0 Premier League win at Portsmouth and an unlikely escape from relegation.
Murphy was left all alone to nod in a Jimmy Bullard free-kick on 76 minutes in an even match that never saw Fulham panic or lose their discipline.
Fulham were six points from safety a month ago, but four wins in their last five matches enabled a remarkable comeback, showing that teams at the bottom can play good football to get out of trouble.
A fourth-minute Simon Davies half-volley that forced a smart low stop by stand-in Pompey keeper Jamie Ashdown was the only good chance in a tepid first half, which saw both sides stroke the ball about neatly without creating many genuine opportunities.
Fulham – who started the match clear of the drop zone on goal difference – needed to develop a greater sense of urgency when relegation rivals Reading and Birmingham took the lead against Derby and Blackburn respectively.
But the hosts made most of the running despite having nothing to play for in the league, and an FA Cup final to look forward to the following weekend.
Niko Kranjcar was particularly impressive, graceful and creative with his passing and movement. He went close with a 12th-minute half-volley and also created half-chances for Jermain Defoe and Pedro Mendes.
Other than a few interesting runs from Diomansy Kamara, Fulham offered little product from their neat passing play. While 0-0 would ordinarily be a decent half-time scoreline at Portsmouth, other scores meant that Fulham were going down as they went in for their half-time team talk.
The second half saw a more inventive Fulham performance, and Murphy and Bullard both went close with a header and a low drive respectively. Kranjcar had a good drive saved by Keller, while Fulham could have snatched a goal just before the hour mark when a goalmouth scramble followed a Bullard corner.
When Reading went 2-0 up through Dave Kitson, and Birmingham 2-1 ahead thanks to sub Cameron Jerome, a win became imperative for Fulham.
And when the Senegal international won a free-kick with 14 minutes remaining, Fulham sent all the big men forward for Bullard’s delivery. But it was one of the smallest men on the pitch who rose unmarked to power a header past Ashdown.
Fulham have been unlucky this season but fortune was on their side at Fratton Park – Murphy was about to come off, his number even noted by the fourth official for an impending substitution when he scored.
The Whites closed the game down afterwards, while to their credit Pompey pushed for an equaliser but were denied by solid defending from Aaron Hughes in particular.
Hodgson’s men held on and, despite comfortable wins for Reading and Birmingham, Mohamed Al-Fayed’s club secured a eighth consecutive season of Premier League football.
Reda Maher / Eurosport