(Monday, May 12, 2008) -- With American Kasey Keller excelling in goal, Fulham completed a miracle run to stay in the English Premier League by winning 1-0 yesterday at Portsmouth.
By capturing their third straight match and fourth of their last five outings, the Cottagers survived another year in the Premier League by goal differential over Reading, another employer of multiple Americans. Fulham won only three road matches all season, its last three.
United States keeper Marcus Hahnemann posted a shutout for Reading, which pounded last-place Derby County 4-0, but saw its two-year run in the EPL end.
By virtue of a minus-22 goal differential, Fulham (8-18-12, 36 points) finished in 17th place, while Reading (10-22-6) also had 36 points, but wound up 18th and demoted because its goal differential was minus-25
Keller made three wonderful saves to allow Fulham to earn its reprieve, the final one coming in stoppage time.
Twice Keller stopped Niko Kranjcar, in the 17th and than again in the 55th. On the second, Kranjcar hit a 30-yard rocket that Keller stopped thanks to quick reflexes. He also made a great save in Jermain Defoe in the 48th minute.
Needing to win, Fulham pushed forward relentlessly trying to score and was rewarded in the 76th minute when Danny Murphy, deep in the left side of the penalty area, buried a six-yard header into the top left corner of the net off a cross from Jimmy Bullard.
Portsmouth (16-13-9, 57) which finished eighth, but would have made sixth had it won, attacked furiously at the end. Keller stepped up to control a Sulley Muntar left-side corner kick in the three minutes of stoppage time.
American striker Brian McBride worked tirelessly all day for Fulham, but was closely marked by a pair of defenders. He took a heavy blow to the face in the 85th minute, but stayed in the match after receiving treatment on the field.
The Cottagers' U.S. midfielder Clint Dempsey put in a sold 72 minutes, taken down once in the Portsmouth box without receiving a penalty-kick call and later making what was perhaps a goal-saving tackle on an advancing DeFoe deep in the Fulham end.
As has been the case in recent matches Carlos Bocanegra remained on the Fulham bench, while his U.S. teammate Eddie Johnson did not dress for the match.
Reading, playing on the road, discovered an attack that had been largely absent over the last month. Marcus Hahnemann was solid in goal, making four saves.
Reading, which was winless in its last six games (0-4-2), received goals from James Harper in the 15th minute, Dave Kitson in the 61st minute, Kevin Doyle in the 69th and Leroy Lita in the 90th.
U.S. midfielder Bobby Convey did not dress for Reading.
Derby, which finished the season 1-29-8 with 11 points, the worst record ever in the Premiership, was woeful again. U.S. midfielder Eddie Lewis went 90 minutes, while American midfielder Benny Feilhaber played the entire second half, but Derby was simply overmatched, as was often the case this season.
Everton entered its home match against Newcastle United at Goodison Park needing a victory to assure itself of a fifth place and a berth in next season's UEFA Cup, and responded with a 3-1 triumph, despite struggling at times.
The only ball that got past Everton's U.S. keeper Tim Howard was a Michael Owen penalty kick shortly after the second half began. Everton, meanwhile, received tallies from Ayegbeni Yakubu in the 28th minute, Joleon Lescott in the 70th minute and Yakubu on penalty in the 82nd.
Everton (19-11-8, 65) took fifth place, five points ahead of Aston Villa, which ended its season with a 2-2 draw with West Ham United. U.S. defender Jonathan Spector did not dress for West Ham with England under-19 international James Tomkins getting the start.
West Ham (13-15-10, 49) placed 10th.
Blackburn Rovers finished their season on a discouraging note, two points behind Villa after being badly beaten by a desperate Birmingham City 4-1. With Fulham and Reading winning, however, Birmingham (8-19-11, 35) finished 19th and was relegated.
U.S goalkeeper Brad Friedel closed a fine season on a sour note. He let in a dreadful goal by David Murphy on the half hour, allowing Murphy's shot to get underneath him though it appeared he had it covered.
Friedel atoned a minute later with an excellent leg save on Olivier Kapo and Morten Gamst Pedersen tied the game at 1-1 for Rovers in the 49th minute. But Birmingham prevailed late on goals by Cameron Jerome in the 73rd and 89th minutes, followed by a strike by Fabrice Muamba in stoppage time.
Blackburn (15-10-13, 58) finished eighth.
DeMerit, Watford face elimination
In the second-tier League Championship tournament to determine a third promotion spot to the EPL, Watford got off to a bad start losing the first leg of its semifinal series 2-0 to visiting Hull City.
American defender Jay DeMerit, still hobbled by a bad knee, did not start and Watford quickly fell behind on goals by Hull's Nick Barmby in the eighth minute and Dean Windass 15 minutes later.
After disallowing an early Watford goal, referee Kevin Friend sent off the Hornets' John Eustace with a red card in the 61st. DeMerit then entered the match.
Watford, which at one point seemed to be cruising toward the automatic promotion for first or second place, sank to sixth and the last tournament spot by closing the regular season with a 1-4-9 record.
The return leg of the two-match series is Wednesday at third-place Hull, the largest city in England never to have played in the Premier League. The winner faces the survivor of the series between fourth-place Bristol City and fifth-place Crystal Palace.