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Sunday, 5 January, 2003, 15:53 GMT
Stylish Fulham banish Blues
Fernando Sava celebrates his goal against Birmingham with his trademark black mask
Sava celebrates his goal with his trademark black mask
Fulham 3-1 Birmingham

Louis Saha capped his comeback from injury with a goal as Fulham overwhelmed a poor Birmingham City to book their spot in Monday's fourth round draw.

Saha's neat finish at the beginning of the second half added to first-half efforts from Fecundo Sava and Bjarne Goldbaek to earn Fulham their first win in six games.

We've got to be brutally honest - we didn't deserve to stay in the FA Cup

Birmingham manager Steve Bruce

Injury-hit Birmingham got a late consolation goal through Stern John but could have no complaints with the scoreline.

Both sides came into the game on the back of a poor run of form, a fact reflected in the nervous and scrappy exchanges early on.

But Fulham settled better on the bobbly Loftus Road surface and once they had opened the scoring after 11 minutes, the result never looked in doubt.

Louis Saha celebrates his goal against Birmingham
Saha scored on his return from injury

Birmingham gave a debut to new loan signing, Fernando Coly, but he struggled to cope with the pace of Saha, returning for Fulham after four months out with a hamstring injury.

In a keenly fought contest, Fulham simply made their opponents look flat-footed.

First Sava led a counter-attack and drilled a low shot under Nico Vaesen's body from the edge of the area.

Then Goldbaek was quick to react to a loose ball and fired the ball into the right-hand corner of Vaesen's net.

It's nice to get to the next round but the Premier League is the most important thing

Fulham midfielder Bjarne Goldbaek

Birmingham's lack of confidence was in evidence throughout the first half with their few attacks consisting mainly of hopeful balls hoofed forward.

Martin Grainger went closest with a curling low free-kick, which Maik Taylor had to beat away.

And the Blues were unlucky when Jovan Kirovski went one-on-one against Taylor only for the referee to pull play back for a free-kick for Birmingham.

But Fulham were in control with Birmingham unable to cope with Saha's darting runs.

The French striker marked his return with the third goal immediately after half-time, turning sharply in the box and driving home from 18 yards.

Birmingham City's Fernando Coly
Coly was given the runaround on his debut

Birmingham showed more spark in the second half, with substitute Craig Fagan forcing a fine save from Taylor.

But as the visitors pushed forward so the gaps opened up at the back and an increasingly confident Fulham swept forward.

Sava had worn his black mask to celebrate his goal but it looked as if it had slipped over his eyes when he blazed over when put in by smart work on the left by Steed Malbranque.

And Fulham should have had another goal when Saha's shot struck the post and Sean Davis hit the crossbar from close range when scoring would have been easier.

Birmingham's work-rate and desire could not be questioned - with Robbie Savage turning in another typically committed performance - and they got a consolation goal as the final whistle.

John broke through and took aim for the top corner and although Taylor got a hand to it, the ball bounced into the visitors' net.

Fulham: Taylor, Finnan, Goma, Djetou, Harley, Goldbaek, Davis, Malbranque, Legwinski (Collins 75), Saha, Sava.
Subs Not Used: Herrera, Melville, Willock, Hammond.

Birmingham: Vaesen, Kenna, Hutchinson, Coly, Grainger, Devlin (Hughes 68), Savage, Powell, Kirovski (Fagan 45), Morrison (John 45), Damien Johnson.
Subs Not Used: Bennett, Woodhouse.

Booked: Devlin, Savage.

Attendance: 9,203

Referee: N Barry (N Lincolnshire).

BBC Five Live's David Oates
"The scoreline was more flattering for Birmingham"
Fulham captain Steve Finnan
"In the end it was comfortable"

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