Hodgson fights to bridle unexpected hope
Manchester City 2 Fulham 3
Sir Alex Ferguson got there first but no one would have blamed Roy Hodgson if his response to this had been "football, bloody hell." It would have been a natural response to an afternoon when fortunes lurched like a ladette on the mother of all binges.
At one point, with Fulham trailing 2-0 at Eastlands and Birmingham and Bolton leading elsewhere, Hodgson was confronting the cold reality of relegation for the first time in 32 years of management. Even with seconds to go hope was becoming a memory, but this morning the Londoners are sensing salvation.
How Fulham had managed to recharge their efforts to stay in the Premier League seemed beyond even their supporters who looked as stunned as they were delighted. Instead the story was summed up by the home fans. At 70 minutes they were chanting "Sven Goran Eriksson", half an hour later they had deserted a much heralded lap of honour by the City players. "Football, bloody hell," was an appropriate response for them, too.
You could not condemn the City contingent who had watched their team showboating after going ahead in 21 minutes through Stephen Ireland and Benjani Mwaruwari only to find that their craft was not seaworthy. Substitute Diomansy Kamara scored through Joe Hart's legs after 70 minutes, Danny Murphy profited from the rebound after his penalty had been saved and Kamara sealed an unlikely and exciting victory deep into stoppage time.
So instead of a miserable journey reflecting on relegation, Fulham could see an escape route. They meet fellow strugglers Birmingham City at Craven Cottage next Saturday and their final match is against Portsmouth, who will have the FA Cup final to the fore of their minds. They are still favourites to go down but there is a chance and as Hodgson conceded afterwards: "Two or three matches ago I'd have settled for that happily."
Then he went to work trying to put a lid on the expectation that suddenly loomed too readily. "It won't be easy," he said. "It's all very well saying if you win the last two you can stay up. I must remind myself and the players that we have won six games together all season. We are not Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea or Man United, it's not going to be easy for us to win those games but I'm delighted for the club, the players and for the people who support us that we've given ourselves some hope."
The mouth spoke of perspective, the glint in his eyes at the sudden prospect of saving Fulham said another. On Saturday he could sense a chance of pulling off an achievement that would rank with taking Switzerland to the World Cup finals. The contrast with Eriksson was stark. The City manager was as charming as ever but inside you suspected he was seething. He met Thaksin Shinawatra yesterday and where a win would have given him a strong hand, he no longer had the prospect of Europe to sweeten the conversation. The former Thai prime minister must have been dismayed by the surreal sight of his slightly shamefaced players circuiting Eastlands in front of a mass of empty blue seats. Just a few thousand stayed to applaud which did not sit too comfortably with Shinawatra's comments in the match programme.
"I know I have bought a club with thousands of loyal fans and I want to be part of them," he wrote. If he was, he would have been on a bus into Manchester. Grumbling loudly.
Goals: Ireland (10) 1-0; Benjani (21) 2-0; Kamara (70) 2-1; Murphy (79) 2-2; Kamara (90) 2-3.
Manchester City (4-4-1-1): Hart; Elano, Corluka, Sun Jihai, Ball; Vassell (Caicedo, 79), Fernandes, Johnson, Petrov; Ireland (Geovanni, 55); Benjani. Substitutes not used: Isaksson (gk), Logan, Castillo.
Fulham (4-4-2): Keller; Stalteri, Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky; Davies, Murphy, Bullard, Dempsey; McBride (Nevland, 70), Healey (Kamara, 63). Substitutes not used: Warner (gk), Bocanegra, Andreasen.
Referee: M Dean (Cheshire).
Booked: Fulham Dempsey.
Man of the match: Kamara
Thaksin and Eriksson in 'cordial' talks
Sven Goran Eriksson (right) was said to be feeling slightly more comfortable about his future yesterday after a 45-minute morning meeting with chairman Thaksin Shinawatra.
Neither man brought up Thaksin's recent failure to rule out dismissing Eriksson, during a meeting which also included City chief executive Alistair Mackintosh along with members of Thaksin's Thai contingent.
Sources suggested that the meeting between the two men, who also briefly encountered each other at a dinner in aid of City's Academy at Eastlands on Saturday night, represented a "detente" between them. Talks were said to have been "cordial" and touched on two of Eriksson's transfer targets - Brazil striker Jo and Peter Crouch - and how the club can finance their purchases by recouping some of the outlay on the likes of £8.8m Rolando Bianchi and £5.7m Georgios Samaras. A net spend similar to last summer's £46m seems unrealistic, since Thaksin's attempts to get his Thai assets unfrozen are unlikely to succeed in time for the summer transfer window.