Birmingham City 1, Fulham 1
It is strangely appropriate that two sides whose fates were so intertwined last season should continue their preparations for this with a match against each other.
A few months ago, Birmingham City and Fulham were separated by just a point yet they were on opposite sides of the Premier League Plimsoll Line and as a result their paths have diverged considerably.
Since Roy Hodgson’s men routed a pitiful Birmingham team at Craven Cottage in May – and in doing so effectively condemned them to relegation, they have operated in different stratospheres.
A bullish Hodgson looks forward to the coming campaign with all the relish of a man who has walked the plank and survived. Alex McLeish, his City counterpart, meanwhile, knows he cannot afford a single slip if he is to put the club back where he found it.
One is on the brink of spending £12 million on a single player, the other is looking around for loan deals and patching up a squad that has lost much of its creative brainpower.
Yet for large parts of Saturday’s knockabout in the sun,. there was little between the teams.
Fulham, conducted admirably by Jimmy Bullard and Danny Murphy in central midfield, exposed their hosts’ limitations with considerable ease in the first half.
Lee Carsley was by-passed and his partner, 16-year-old Jordan Mutch, must have thought he was on a Wurlitzer as wiser heads in white shirts fizzed the play around him.
That enabled Bobby Zamora to bully Radhi Jaidi and Liam Ridgewell at the heart of the Birmingham defence. The former Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United striker had three clear-cut chances and failed to hit the target with any of them.
One-time Black Country rivals Seol Ki Hyeon and Zoltan Gera also added to the offensive array and it was the Korean who had an excellent chance when Murphy slipped between his markers, only for his shot to be kept out by Maik Taylor.
By that time the visitors were already 1-0 ahead after the ball broke behind the home defence and found Simon Davies in huge tracts of land. His finish past Taylor was composure itself. Blues offered little in return, until that is Mehdi Nafti replaced Mutch and he and his captain began to close down more aggressively.
Even then the Londoners were on top, though it will not have escaped McLeish’s notice that Cameron Jerome, operating on the wing instead of up front, created his second goal from that position in as many games.
With 13 minutes to go, the striker surged down the left, cut in and rolled an inviting pass into the path of Sebastian Larsson. The Swedish international made no mistake and sealed the draw with a thunderous right-foot shot.
“In the first half, we allowed them too much respect but in the second we got to them and it was a much better time for us,” said McLeish.
“We were pedestrian in the first half. Fulham bossed it entirely because we didn’t set the right tempo.”
He did not point the finger at Mutch and Carsley, however. Instead, he preferred to accept his tactics had not been offensive enough.
Indeed, as he must, he lauded what Mutch has achieved this summer. “For him to be breaking into the first-team squad at his age says a lot for the kid,” he said.
“He is going to be a great player, of that I have no doubt. Maybe if we had asked Jordan and Lee Carsley to go a bit tighter, it might have been a bit better for us.”
With Sheffield United to come to St Andrew’s when the Coca-Cola Championship season begins in five days time and new signing Kemy Agustien and stalwart Damien Johnson injured, the Scot now faces a straight choice between Nafti and Mutch to partner Carsley on opening day.
Youth or experience?
Up front James McFadden still looks some way short of his best, Garry O’Connor failed to sustain his excellent pre-season form and Jerome has yet to have a sniff.
That seems to suggest a pairing of goal-poacher non pareil Kevin Phillips and £1 million man Marcus Bent. Otherwise, the team virtually picks itself and must show more urgency when the real thing kicks off.
Scorers: Davies (16) 0-1; Larsson (77) 1-1
BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; Kelly (Parnaby 45), Jaidi (Martin Taylor 30), Ridgewell, Murphy (Queudrue 73); Larsson, Carsley, Mutch (Nafti 45), McSheffrey (Jerome 72); Phillips (McFadden 45), O’Connor (Bent 45). Subs: Doyle
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil (Stoor 45), Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky; Davies (Kallio 89), Bullard (Davis 73), Murphy (Andreasen 73), Gera; Seol (Healy 84), Zamora (Johnson 84). Subs: Stockdale
Referee: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire)
Birmingham Man of the Match: Lee Carsley: came to the fore in the second half