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Clash of the underrated overachievers

By | 23rd February 2010

Sunday pitted two strong mid-table teams with high work ethics and accomplished players against each other. Both Birmingham and Fulham have reputations for a high work ethic and a conservative approach. Through sheer hard work and perseverance these two unlikely teams have managed to push their way into the top half of the table. Everything pointed to this game being a stale draw, which would see two solid teams grind it out for a few points. However, this game managed to prove once again that the Premier League has the ability to surprise you with thrilling games at any moment.

This match was contested from the very beginning and was fittingly won on the last kick of the ball. Two and a half minutes in, Birmingham were in the lead after a long ball into the box, and a couple shady clearances saw Lee Bowyer’s hopeful cross headed by Chris Byrd into his own net.  It was a disheartening own goal for Fulham, who spent the next thirty minutes of the game holding on and preventing Birmingham from extending their lead.  Joe Hart was in top form, fending off a number of good attempts from Davis and Zamora as Fulham regained some confidence and began to look more and more dangerous.

The comeback was on when Damien Duff scored a magnificent goal to level the game.  Birmingham’s complacency was clearly evident as Duff received the ball and dribbled along the top of the box as defender after defender backed off, and curled a scorcher off the post past Joe Hart.  After this the game opened up and each side had a number of good chances, the most memorable being James McFadden’s blistering shot. The Scot received the ball a couple of yards outside the box and drilled the ball into the crossbar, only to see it bounce on the line and out.

The game seemed to be set for a draw, but in stoppage time Steven Carr fouled Zoltan Gera at the top of the box which gave Fulham a free kick.  Bobby Zamora didn’t think twice. With the game on the line and the England manager already on his way home, he curled a perfect free kick around the wall and into the back of the net.

So far the feel good story of the season is the wildly unexpected success of Birmingham City, who after 26 games are sitting comfortably in 10th place, three points away from the proverbial safety of forty points. City are solidifying their place in this year’s, and now next year’s, Premier League table after experiencing a couple of yo-yo campaigns in previous seasons.  Their current position is met with incredulity by some, and I had to check twice to make sure that there wasn’t an error with the league table.

At the same time Fulham are looking  set to duplicate last season’s top half finish and are in good positions in both the FA Cup and Europa League.  There are even some suggestions out there that Fulham’s victory over Shakhtar Donetsk has elevated them to being one of the favorites to win the tournament. With great players at every position, including Bobby Zamora, who is being tipped for an international call up, Roy Hodgson has done a marvelous job guiding his team into 9th place.

In a league that tends to relate money with success Birmingham and Fulham have managed to play their way into the top half with only minimal investments.  The main key for both of these teams has been their brilliant managers and untiring work ethic.  These two teams further illustrate the class that permeates the Barclay’s Premier League. It may be big spending clubs that make the league famous around the world, but it’s teams like Fulham and Birmingham that make the Premier League competitive and keep the others honest.



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