On This Day… 16th March

Fulham 1 – 0 Everton (PremierLeague)
Mc Bride (’67)

This was Fulham’s 30th League match of what up to that stage had been a dismal season. The unlamented Lawrie Sanchez had been shown the door in December after just two wins in the first 17 games had left us in the midst of a relegation battle. Roy Hodgson had been appointed to replace him to very little fanfare from the Fulham faithful. Although there was a swift upturn in the style of play results were still proving hard to come by. Hodgson had just one League victory to his name going in to the Everton game, a comeback win at home to Villa that had us hoping we had turned the corner. However this was followed by just one point in the four games preceding the Everton fixture and we started the day 6 points adrift of safety in 19th place.

17 Birmingham City 29 6 8 15 33 45 -12 26
18 Bolton Wanderers 28 6 7 15 28 42 -14 25
19 Fulham 29 3 11 15 26 49 -23 20
20 Derby County 30 1 7 22 14 64 -50 10

By contrast, Everton were having an excellent season and were only 3 points adrift of neighbours Liverpool who occupied the 4th Champions League spot. The only real grounds for optimism was our home record against the Toffees. We had won every home game against them since our promotion to the Premier League although we were similarly inept on their patch. We could only hope that home advantage would work its usual magic in what was a Sunday lunchtime kick-off in front of the Sky cameras.

The Fulham Team

Kasey Keller – Paul Staltieri, Brede Hangeland, Aaron Hughes, Paul Konchesky – Leon Andreasen, Danny Murphy, Jimmy Bullard, Simon Davies – Brian McBride, Eddie Johnson.

Subs. Carlos Bocanegra (Murphy 74), Moritz Volz (Bullard 85), Clint Dempsey (McBride 88)

Unused Subs. Ricardo Batista, David Healey.

Hodgson had used the January transfer window wisely with some astute loan signings such as the experienced Keller and Staltieri. Brede Hangeland had slotted in at centre back beside Aaron Hughes to start a partnership that still has Fulham fans reminiscing fondly today. Further good news had been the return from long-term injury of captain Brian McBride and the talismanic Bullard who had scored the late winner against Villa and a stunning equaliser at Blackburn the week before.

BBC Match Report

Brian McBride’s second-half header gave Fulham a ray of hope in their battle to avoid Premier League relegation but dented Everton’s European dreams.

Joseph Yobo flicked Simon Davies’ cross into McBride’s path and the American headed past the helpless Tim Howard.

Everton’s best chance came through Yakubu who forced Kasey Keller into a fine save, but they created little.

Davies should have doubled Fulham’s lead but he failed to convert Jimmy Bullard’s delightful pass.

This was only Fulham’s fourth victory in the Premier League and leaves the Londoners effectively four points from safety because of their inferior goal difference.

Roy Hodgson’s men deserved the win and the smiles on his players’ faces when the final whistle blew illustrated how crucial a victory this could prove to be.

Fulham have matches against fellow strugglers Newcastle, Derby, Sunderland, Reading and Birmingham remaining and survival could be within their grasp.

The red half of Merseyside will also be happy as Everton are still three points behind fourth-placed Liverpool in the chase for the final Champions League spot, having now played the same number of games.

Fulham started brightly, with Bullard, Danny Murphy and Davies prominent in midfield.

Indeed, it was former Everton player Davies who created Fulham’s best chance of a poor first half with his cross creating space for McBride, whose toe-poked volley whistled past Howard’s left-hand post.

When Andrew Johnson limped off injured after 15 minutes Fulham sensed that this could be their day.

Right-back Tony Hibbert replaced the England international, as Everton did not have a striker on the substitutes’ bench, and consequently the visitors posed little threat in attack.

Facing the strong wind, David Moyes’ men struggled and only in the final minutes of the first half did they force Keller into action. Yakubu was allowed time and space to turn inside the box and his shot forced the Fulham goalkeeper to dive low to his left.

Both teams started the second half with greater attacking intent.

Eddie Johnson’s pace posed the Merseysiders problems and his jinking run on the hour forced the visitors to concede a corner, from which the American should have done better, but the striker’s header was way off target.

Johnson’s miss would not prove costly, however, as Davies and McBride combined for a deserved goal, the striker’s second of an injury-plagued season.

Yobo unintentionally flicked Davies’s cross into McBride’s path and the American’s downward header into the corner gave compatriot Howard no chance.

The defender had a chance to make amends minutes later but he wastefully headed wide when unchallenged in the box.

In the closing stages, Davies – standing inside the box – had a great opportunity to put the game to bed but the midfielder failed to do justice to the industrious Bullard’s magnificent pass.

When referee Steve Bennett brought the game to an end however Fulham did not give one jot about their profligacy as McBride’s solitary strike was enough to give them the points that they so desperately needed.

This result looked another false dawn when we picked up just one point from the three games that followed. Even that was against a hapless Derby side who won only once all season and finished with a paltry 11 points. However, as all Fulham fans know this was just the prelude to the Greatest of Great Escapes. Having not won away since God was in short trousers we put Reading and Man City to the sword in successive road trips. When we followed up with a vital home win in a six-pointer with Birmingham it left us just needing a victory at Portsmouth in our final game. With their minds more on their forthcoming Cup Final all the stars aligned and Danny Murphy’s header sealed our survival and sent us into ecstasy. I don’t know why we made such a fuss, surely it was never in doubt?