SPORT

Fulham 2-2 Hull City: Whites Find Their Voice But Relegation Looms

26/04/2014 17:26 BST | Updated 26/04/2014 17:59 BST
Christopher Lee via Getty Images
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 26: Goalscorers Fernando Amorebieta and Ashkan Dejagah of Fulham look dejected at the final whistle during the Barclays Premier League match bewteen Fulham and Hull City at Craven Cottage on April 26, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)

Fulham's Craven Cottage is a ground as quirky as its supporters. Adjacent to the idyllic Bishop's Park and sat beside the Thames, there are fewer more hospitable grounds for visiting sides and Hull were unlikely to quake upon hearing Andy Williams seconds before kick-off. The start was even delayed when "Diddy' Dave Hamilton forgot to turn down the volume. Music to watch goals by.

It can be an unstable ground, too. Built in 1896, certain sections look - and feel - untouched, despite the two-year refurbishment the ground underwent in the early 2000s. The Putney Road end literally rocks if there are a merry enough band of away followers to occupy it, yet Hull supporters' orange and black coloured just two of the seven blocks in the infamous neutral end.

Fulham supporters were, again, armed with those abhorrent clappers in an attempt to intensify the usually dormant Craven Cottage. A symbol of the plasticised modern game, plenty of football fans want them banned along with vuvuzelas, but without them Fulham supporters may not have found their voice on what should have been a seminal day in their quest for survival.

At times, west London felt like the West End. Their supporters quickly grew impatient with Martin Jol's mavericks, despaired over René Meulensteen's aimless management earlier this season, but have responded ebulliently to Felix Magath's workmanlike Whites. Yet at the final shrill, the Cottage resembled the nearby cemetery following a remarkable second-half in which hope was followed by despair. Dead on their feet due to a substitution error, Fulham could now be dead meat.

"They are quiet and disappointed," said Magath, who was exactly that in his barely audible press conference. Crestfallen, one journalist sincerely wished him "Good luck."

Defeat at Tottenham Hotspur seven days ago had not stifled the optimism inside Craven Cottage. Fulham, marooned in the relegation quagmire since 28 January, finally had the chance to emerge from the bottom three. Hull, with just four Barclays Premier League wins this calendar year, could not afford to be distracted by their FA Cup final date on 17 May when four short of the coveted 40-points mark. This was most important match in the top tier on this antepenultimate Saturday.

And the manufactured atmosphere lifted the home side, as the Johnny Haynes Stand trembled with enthusiasm. Ahmed Elmohamady enraged the usually phlegmatic Cottagers when he pathetically dived in an attempt to win a penalty. Seldom do away players look shaken at Fulham, but the Egyptian received a deafening rollocking.

Perhaps Fulham's supporters felt obligated to provide some rancour. Magath's tactics were too direct and lacked innovation, as Hull overcame an edgy opening 15 minutes, relying on Tom Huddlestone to unleash the crafty Shane Long, which unsettled the lumbering Brede Hangeland.

Amorebieta and John Arne Riise - Fulham's left-sided pairing - enjoyed about as much chemistry as David Moyes and the Manchester United players. Amorebieta, accustomed to relatively high standards from his Athletic Bilbao days, was the more demanding, and that determination might have cost him in the 41st minute when Long went down under his challenge in the area. Referee Lee Mason dismissed the complaints but Hull's sterile dominance had begun to irk Fulham's supporters.

Stockdale's kicking is often wretched, and the manner in which he lackadaisically gifted the Tigers possession again generated greater anger than Elmohamady's tumble. There were a smattering of boos that greeted the half-time whistle, although the majority hollered encouragement.

Something had to change, though, and Magath hauled off the atrocious Riise and, harshly, Lewis Holtby for Kieran Richardson and Ashkan Dejagah. It was a risky strategy considering Steve Sidwell, the heartbeat of this Whites team, looked like he would not continue and he lasted just eight more minutes after the re-start. The next eight minutes should have been remembered as the most significant in Fulham's season.

Dejagah scored a delightful opener, deceiving David Meyler to cut inside and curl a left-footer well out of Steve Harper's reach. Craven Cottage has not greeted a goal as raucously since Clint Dempsey's chip against Juventus four years ago and Magath, the man for a crisis, had proven his worth again. Amorebieta's header, which doubled the advantage, came via substitute Richardson's corner to augment the German coach's satisfaction.

The home supporters rocked to Elmer Bernstein's The Great Escape theme and stood up to signify they are "staying up" with half-an-hour remaining. The great escapologist acts are never devoid of tension, and the calamitous manner which preceded Nikica Jelavić's simple finish, as Stockdale tipped Sascha Riether's sliced clearance onto the goalframe, was foreboding. Sone Aluko tested Stockdale's woodwork again moments later and Fulham's careless passing hinted at tiredness.

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Fulham's players looked crestfallen at the final whistle

Bruce introduced Yannick Sagbo and George Boyd as Hull chased an equaliser and the finale became frantic. Harper denied Dejagah a second from point-blank range and Darren Bent fired wide, then Elmohamady, of all people, almost silenced the Whites when he hit the post, but it was Long who finally extinguished Fulham's lead with a 87th-minute header. Suddenly, the decision not to withdraw Sidwell at the pause seemed to have signalled Fulham's death knell.

And then there was controversy. Curtis Davies appeared to handle a hoofed ball inside his area, yet referee Mason was unmoved. The majority of Fulham's players stood depleted and dejected at the final whistle, barely able to muster a show of appreciation for their supporters, who only fell silent at the final whistle.

"I think it's going to the wire. There's going to be four or five teams in it the last day," Bruce said, before it was suggested he must be pleased Hull are not involved in the relegation scrap. "We're absolutely delighted that we are out of it. We don't want any of that shite, that's for sure." The only ones not laughing were Fulham.