(Sunday, April 27, 2008) -- Thanks to a bizarre 3-2 victory over Manchester City, Fulham clings to life in the English Premier League and has a chance, albeit a long shot, to avoid relegation with two matches to go.
Trailing 2-0 with 20 minutes to go at City of Manchester Stadium, Fulham looked beaten and relegated. Lightly marked Stephen Ireland scored in the 10th minute and Benjani Mwaruwari made it 2-0 11 minutes later with precise finishes that gave Fulham's United States goalkeeper Kasey Keller no chance to stop them.
Keller made a couple of nice saves to keep the deficit at two, before Fulham rallied. First, substitute Diomansy Kamara scored in the 60th minute. Then U.S. midfielder Clint Dempsey sent a pass to reserve Eric Nevland who was dragged down in the box by City defender Sun Jihai for a penalty kick. Nevland had replaced American striker Brian McBride in the 71st minute.
Danny Murphy's subsequent spot kick was stopped by keeper Joe Hart, but Murphy was quick to the rebound and put it away to make it 2-2 in the 79th minute.
Keller thwarted Manchester's attempt to score a winner before Kamara struck deep in stoppage time to give Fulham the 3-2 decision.
Once again, defender Carlos Bocanegra was on the bench, but did not play, while his U.S. teammate, striker Eddie Johnson did not dress.
Fulham is in striking range of three clubs and must pass two of them if it is to remain in the Premier League. Reading is one of those teams following a cautious 0-0 draw at Wigan Athletic in which both teams seemed intent on not making a mistake and each attacked only periodically. U.S. keeper Marcus Hahnemann made seven saves in a solid effort for Reading.
The bottom three teams from the 20-club Premier League are demoted. Reading (9-21-6) and Bolton Wanderers (8-19-9) both have 33 points and are are tied for 16th place, but Bolton is solidly ahead by eight in the tiebreaking goal differential. Birmingham City is in the top of the relegation zone at 7-18-11 with 32 points, followed by Fulham at 6-18-12 with 30 points.
Reading closes with contests against two losing teams, Saturday's home match with Tottenham Hotspur (10-13-13, 43 points), followed by the May 11 season finale at last-place, relegation-bound Derby County (1-27-8, 11). Fulham hosts lowly Birmingham Saturday, but completes its season at home May 11 at seventh-place Portsmouth (16-11-9, 57).
Everton's quest to finish fifth with its attendant berth in Europe's second-tier UEFA Cup tournament has stalled with the team managing only two points with a 0-1-2 record in its last three outings. That included yesterday's 2-2 draw with visiting Aston Villa in which Everton twice wasted one-goal advantages over its nearest challenger. The game played in a driving rain at Goodison Park saw a scintillating closing half hour, including three goals in a six-minute span, starting in 80th minute.
The tight defensive struggle was broken open with a sharply deflected own-goal charged to Villa's Martin Laursen in the 56th minute after a hard shot from Phil Neville.
With the Everton defense playing solidly in front of U.S. keeper Tim Howard, it looked like Everton might be able to protect its lead, but in the 80th minute, but the Toffees defense made a serious mistake, allowing a corner kick to bounce in the penalty area. Villa striker Gabriel Agbonlahor reached it first and beat Howard with a hard shot to tie the score at 1-1.
Four minutes later, Everton defender Joseph Yobo used his first touch to bury a cross to the far post to put Everton ahead 2-1. That lead lasted two minutes. On the ensuing kickoff, while the Toffees fans were still celebrating, Villa forward John Carew got his head on a cross deep in the Everton box and sent the ball into the corner of the net, well beyond Howard's reach to make it 2-2. Howard possibly could have come off his line to control the ball, but his defense seemed to have it covered.
Everton is in fifth place at 18-10-8 with 62 points, three points better than Villa (16-9-11). Everton's plus-21 goal differential is one better than the Lions. Everton ends the season with a difficult road test Sunday at third-place Arsenal (22-3-11, 77) followed by a May 11 home game with Newcastle United (11-15-10, 43). Villa's remaining two outings are slightly less challenging with a pair of losing teams -- Saturday at home with Wigan (9-17-10, 37) and a May 11 finale at West Ham United (13-14-9, 48).
Seventh-place Portsmouth's hopes to catch Everton were damaged greatly Saturday when American keeper Brad Friedel turned in a fine effort, making three saves for a 1-0 road win over the Blues at Fratton Park.
Jermain Defoe did beat Friedel, but only by shooting when an offside whistle had already blown. Moments later, Friedel made a nice stop on Defoe.
At 16-11-9 with 57 points, Portsmouth's hopes for entrance into the UEFA Cup remained alive, but barely.
Blackburn Rovers (14-9-13) are tied for eighth place with Manchester City (15-11-10) at 55 points, but Blackburn's plus-3 goal differential is three better than City's. Rovers hope to qualify for the third-level InterToto Cup in August and do well enough in that event to earn entrance into the next UEFA Cup.
U.S. defender Jonathan Spector missed his second match in succession for West Ham. A training injury has sidelined him and Saturday he missed the Hammers' 2-2 draw with Newcastle.
American midfielder Eddie Lewis went the distance for lowly Derby County, which was routed 6-2 by Arsenal. Benny Feilhaber came on in the 60th minute, his first appearence in three months.
Watford stumbles toward League Championship playoffs
In the second-division English League Championship, Watford's hopes to make the four-team promotion playoffs took a blow with a 1-0 loss to relegated Scunthorpe (11-22-12, 45), which stands 23rd among 24 teams.
American Jay DeMerit was back in the lineup for the Watford defense, which had a decent day while the attack was anemic,
The third-through-sixth place clubs play off for a third promotion berth to the Premier League. Watford (18-12-15, 69) is in fifth place and can clinch the playoffs by winning at Blackpool Sunday. However, should the Hornets falter, there are four clubs within three points that could pass them, including sixth-place Crystal Palace (17-11-17, 68), Wolverhampton (17-12-16, 67), Ipswich Town (17-13-15, 66) and Sheffield United (17-13-15, 66).