Blues 1 Fulham 2 .. Match Report

Last updated : 22 January 2005 By Richard Barker

Blues led going into the latter stages, but Fulham staged a comeback to seal an unlikely victory.

Steve Bruce was forced into one change at the back with Matthew Upson suspended, so Martin Taylor came in to replace him. Jamie Clapham also came into the side at left-back, with Olivier Tebily missing out. In midfield there were also two changes, with new signing Salif Diao and Julian Gray coming in and Stephen Clemence and Darren Anderton left out.

Blues started as the better side but from very early on you could see that they lacked any real invention or ideas. The first half was actually a pretty poor exhibition of football. Fulham grew stronger as the half wore on, and went close twice. Firstly, Maik Taylor took an age over a clearance, so by the time he did strike the ball Luis Boa Morte charged it down and the Blues 'keeper had a lucky escape.

Then, 5 minutes before the break Fulham capitalised on Blues only having ten men on the pitch (Martin Taylor was having stiches put into a nasty head wound) and set up Andy Cole who fired just wide from a tight angle. In terms of the first half, that was that really, apart from Damien Johnson heading hopelessly wide when well placed.

Fulham nearly took the lead straight after the interval, when Boa Morte fired wide in very similar circumstances to Cole's chance in the first half. Thankfully though Blues began to settle and come into the game. Indeed, after 51 minutes they took the lead. Mario Mechiot linked well with Johnson down the right, and via Clinton Morrison's head the ball found itself to Emile Heskey who eventually bundled it over the line with a little help from Fulham full back Moritz Volz.

Blues began to enjoy some pressure now as they sought out a second goal to kill the game off. Unfortunately, as with a lot of Blues pressure, they didn't really create too many good chances. At the other end Boa Morte was booked for diving when challenged by Maik Taylor. The fact is, it may well have been a dive, but Taylor should have had the ball anyway, as he was so slow to come off his line. Taylor's overall performance was poor again - see the early charged down clearance example - and it's getting to the point now where he's becoming something of a liability.

Robbie Blake came on for Morrison, and went close with a good drive from outside the area after neat work from Heskey. As the game wore on, you got the feeling Blues were comfortably heading towards a much-needed win. That was until Damien Johnson singlehandedly turned the game in Fulham's favour within a matter of minutes. Yes, Damien Johnson the Blues player.

With about 10 minutes to go, the ball dropped to Johnson in the middle of the park, and Blake made a great run ahead of him and was as good as clean through on goal. Johnson just needed to poke the ball forward first time - it was easy. Instead though he attempted to control it and turn inside, as he always does. He lost the ball, Fulham broke, and Boa Morte ran into the area only to be stopped by, you guessed it, Damien Johnson. Referee Phil Dowd, who in truth had a shocking game for both teams, adjudged it to be a penalty, and Andy Cole stepped up and fired home.

Johnson, clearly not satisfied with his work in earning Fulham a draw decided to go for the win. Just a couple of minutes later he continued to kick Boa Morte, and conceded a free-kick in a dangerous position. Mark Pembridge crossed from the free-kick and Papa Bouba Diop powered a header home. Johnson was substituted moments later.

Damien Johnson is one of those players who it genuinely is hard to be critical of, because of his work-rate, etc. However, it's getting to the point now where - like his Northern Ireland colleague in goal - he's a liability to the team. This isn't a kneejerk reaction, as he cost Blues the home game against Crystal Palace too, following similar stupidity leading to Andy Johnson scoring. As a right winger, you want him to be earning the team points, but he just doesn't do that. All he's really done this season in affecting the outcomes of games is cost Blues matches. It's not good enough.

Blues toiled but couldn't get back into the game, and from looking like comfortable winners with 15 minutes to go, Blues lost, and were dragged back closer to the relegation zone, following Southampton's win, Palace's win and, of course, Fulham's win.

Two further players merit mention. Firstly, Salif Diao looked ok on his debut. The positive to take out of it though is that the thing that looked to be holding him back wasn't his ability, but seemed to be his fitness. He was honest enough to say to the press that he needed 3 games to get his fitness back, and it looked as though once he's had that, he'll fit in well.

And finally, Martin Taylor came in and did an excellent job in deputising for Upson. It's been tough for Taylor since he's arrived at the club, but personally I don't think he's ever done much wrong. At the back end of last season he was being played at right-back and he became a bit of a scapegoat because of the team's poor form. Today though he showed that he does have a lot of good qualities as a centre-back - and he did all this with a real bad head wound that meant he was on and off the pitch throughout. Not many players can take much credit out of this Blues performance, but he can.

For Blues, the four consecutive wins seem a distant memory - this is four consecutive league defeats now. The team desperately, desperately miss an 'outlet' type player - someone who can take possession of the ball and do something special to take the pressure off. I'm obviously referring to the likes of David Dunn and Stan Lazaridis here, but even someone like Muzzy Izzet could be thrown into the category. Blues need at least another new face, because at the moment they've got one of the country's top strikers bang on form, and they've got absolutely no idea how to utilise him. The side need some invention and a spark from somewhere.