(Tuesday, February 5, 2008) -- American striker Brian McBride returned to action for Fulham Sunday, entering in the 70th minute celebrating what might end up one as one of the most important victories in club history.
Fulham, desperate to avoid relegation from the English Premier League, defeated visiting Aston Villa 2-1 on a late goal by Jimmy Bullard, back after missing a season and a half with a horrendous knee injury. McBride underwent surgery after dislocating a kneecap in the Cottagers' season opener in August.
Villa (11-6-8, 41 points) is in sixth place and within striking distance of advancing to the qualifying round of the next European Champions League, while Fulham (3-12-10, 19) stands 19th out of 20 teams after snapping three-game-losing and 11-match winless streaks (0-8-3) in league play. Still, Fulham is three points shy of escaping he relegation zone.
After an even opening 45 minutes. Villa stepped up the pressure and had an advantage that resulted in a very sloppy own goal by Fulham defender Aaron Hughes in the 69th minute. However, Fulham came back from a deficit for the first time this season with a 73rd-minute goal from Simon Davies and then Bullard's winner in the 86th minute.
U.S. midfielder Clint Dempsey played wide on the right side, in more of an attacking midfield role, and had a very strong match. He kept the ball alive on the play that led to Davies goal, then seemed to tire and he came out in the 79th minute.
U.S. defender Carlos Bocanegra did not play. In an effort to solve its weakness of giving up goals on high balls sent into its box, Fulham acquired 6-foot-4 Brede Hangeland and he assumed the Americans' former spot in the middle.
U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller, out for a lengthy period of time with an arm injury, dressed for the game, but did not play in his return. American striker Eddie Johnson, acquired last week for a reported $4 million transfer fee, arrived from the U.S. Thursday and watched the match from the stands.
Brad Friedel was in net for Blackburn Rovers and Tim Howard for Everton and the match of U.S. keepers resulted in a 0-0 draw at Blackburn's Ewood Park.
Friedel made five saves to Howard's four. Friedel's clean sheet was preserved with the late help of a referee's assistant.
In the 83rd minute, Everton reserve midfielder James Vaughan sent a clever pass through the Blackburn defense and it became a foot-race between Friedel, who came charging off his goal-line and striker Andy Johnson. Johnson won by inches, went around Friedel and put the ball into the open goal, but was ruled offside to screams of disbelief from some 6,000 Everton supporters who had made the trip.
Everton (13-7-5, 44) is in fourth place, trying to hold onto the final berth for Champions League qualifying while Blackburn (10-6-9, 39) is eighth, but only two points below sixth and a spot in the second-tier UEFA Cup.
U.S. keeper Marcus Hahnemann stopped a penalty kick in the 24th minute, but Reading's attack was still anemic and the Royals fell 2-0 to visiting Bolton Wanderers.
Both Bolton goals, by Kevin Nolan in the 33rd minute and Heidar Helguson in the 58th, came when Hahnemann faced attackers one-on-one after they received a through ball. Helguson appeared to be offside, but Reading did not get the call.
With newcomer Marek Matejovsky given his first start, U.S. midfielder Bobby Convey did not dress.
After six straight league losses, Reading (6-15-4, 22) is in 17th place, one point and one position above the drop zone.
American defender Jonathan Spector was dressed, but did not play in West Ham United's 1-0 loss to Wigan Athletic.
DeMerit sidelined by ailing groin for Watford
In the second-division English League Championship, U.S. defender Jay DeMerit was unavailable after suffering a groin injury in training and he was replaced new-arrival Leigh Bromby in a challenging 3-1 triumph over Wolverhampton. Two goals by Tommy Smith in the 76th and 78th minutes allowed the Hornets to break a 1-1 tie and prevail.
It is still being determined how much time DeMerit, a stalwart on the back-line, will miss.
Watford (15-8-7, 52) is in second place, trailing West Bromwich Albion (16-8-6) by two points. Right behind the Hornets are Bristol City (14-7-9, 51) and Stoke (13-6-11, 50) as the four teams battle for the top two positions and promotion to the Premier League. The third- through sixth-place teams play off for a third promotion spot.
Cherundolo plays 90 minutes in Hannover draw
In the German Bundesliga, back after its six-week winter break, U.S. defender Steve Cherundolo went the distance for Hannover 98 which drew 1-1 with host Hamburg SV at the HSH Nordbank Arena.
Hamburg was perhaps the hottest team in the league before the break. The Hannover defense was strong, not giving up a shot in the first half and took a 1-0 lead into the 70th minute before Ivica Olic equalized on a rebound.
Hannover is 8-6-4 with 28 points, good for seventh place.
American midfielder Bryan Arguez was the first-round pick by D.C. United in the 2007 Major League Soccer draft, but never appeared in a league match in his rookie season. On Saturday, he made his debut for his new team, playing the final 27 minutes for Hertha Berlin in its 3-0 home loss to Eintracht Frankfurt.
Wearing No. 17, Arguez replaced defender Gojko Kacar in the 63rd minute after Hertha went down 2-0 on goals by Martin Fenin, who ended up with all three Eintracht tallies.
Hertha (6-10-2, 20) is in 13th place in the 18-team league, only five points clear of the relegation zone with 16 matches left.
In the Netherlands, U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley and Heerenveen continued their torrid pace as Bradley scored for a fifth match in a row for Heerenveen which won its fourth straight by trouncing visiting Vitesse Arnhem 7-0.
Bradley's goal in the 50th minute was a rocket into the top corner and gave him 16 for the season. Heerenveen (13-6-4, 43) has scored 19 times in its last four victories and is in third place, one point behind Ajax (12-3-8) and nine behind PSV Eindhoven (16-3-4).
In Portugal, American attacker Freddy Adu did not play in Benfica's dismal 0-0 home draw with CD Nacional de Madeira.
In Belgium Sunday night, U.S. defender Oguchi Onyewu went 90 minutes for Standard de Liège, which played a 0-0 draw in a defensive struggle with rival Cercle Bruges. Standard (12-0-8, 44) is in second place in the Jupiler League, one point behind Club Brugge (13-1-6) and three ahead of Cercle (12-3-5).