(Friday, May 9, 2008) -- Reading and Fulham will learn whether they will remain in the English Premier League after they complete their seasons Sunday.
Both teams, employers of multiple Americans, are tied and straddle the top of the relegation zone. The bottom three teams in the Premier League are demoted. Fulham (7-18-12) and Reading (9-22-6) are even with 33 points, but Fulham sits in safety in 17th place and Reading is in jeopardy in 18th because Fulham's minus-23 goal differential is six better than the Royals.
Fulham's improbable late season surge continued with a 2-0 victory to leapfrog over visiting Birmingham City Saturday at Craven Cottage. Combined with a 3-2 road win over Manchester City, the Cottagers, who employ five players from the United States, won two matches in a row for the first time since September 2006 and have prevailed in three out of their last four in their drive to remain in the EPL..
U.S. striker Brian McBride put Fulham ahead 1-0 when he converted Jimmy Bullard's free kick in the 52nd minute. Erik Nevland added an insurance goal in the 87th minute.
McBride had come close to opening the scoring early when he headed a cross by Paul Konchesky against the crossbar. American Clint Dempsey, who worked tirelessly in the midfield nearly gave the Cottagers a second goal soon after McBride scored, but he too hit the crossbar.
American Kasey Keller did not have much work in the Fulham goal, called on for a single save. His best work of the day was to come out and slow advancing James McFadden, allowing his defender Aaron Hughes time to recover and stop the breakaway with a clearing tackle in the 42nd minute.
Defender Carlos Bocanegra watched from the Fulham bench, while his forward Eddie Johnson, his U.S., teammate did not dress.
Reading, meanwhile, continued its sharp plummet, dropping a 1-0 home decision to Tottenham Hotspur at the Madejski Stadium. The Royals are winless (0-4-1) in their last five matches.
Robbie Keane put Spurs ahead 1-0 in the 16th minute, going in alone on U.S. keeper Marcus Hahnemann after faking two Reading defenders to the ground before tucking his shot into a corner beyond Hahnemann's reach. Hahnemann finished with four saves and was at his best in the 10th minute when he stretched out to deny Darren Bent, who had been sent in alone.
From that point, Reading could not solve keeper Radek Cerny, who made eight saves for Tottenham.
Injured American midfielder Bobby Convey did not dress for Reading.
Derby County (1-28-8, 11 points) is certain to be relegated after experiencing record futility. Of the three teams above it, two will be relegated. Trailing Fulham and Reading by a point is Birminghan City (7-19-11, 32) in 19th place with its minus-19 goal differential (the first tiebreaker) four better than Fulham and 11 better than Reading.
On Sunday, Reading travels to lowly Derby, while Fulham has a more difficult challenge with its visit to Portsmouth (16-12-9, 57), which is eighth, but could finish as high as sixth with a victory.
Birmingham will host Blackburn Rovers. If Reading and Fulham win, Fulham will stay in the EPL (assuming Reading doesn't win by an impossibly large margin. If both lose and Birmingham City wins or draws, both Fulham and Reading would be demoted. If, among Fulham and Reading, one wins and the other loses or draws, the winner would stay up and the loser sent down.
If Fulham and Reading both draw or lose and Birmingham wins, City will be the team to stay in the Premier League. Other possibilities exist depending on draws.
Everton heads into its season finale against Newcastle United still worried about maintaining fith place and its attendant berth in the UEFA Cup, Europe's second-tier tournament after falling 1-0 Saturday at Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium
In a tense match that saw neither side carve out much of an advantage, Arsenal won on a powerful header by Nicklas Bendtner off a Armand Traore cross in the 77th minute.
U.S. keeper Tim Howard made only a single save, but he did well on several crosses that might have been dangerous.
In fifth place, Everton (18-11-8, 62) is three points ahead of Aston Villa with the two teams even in goal differential at plus-20. Everton could seal its position with a victory or draw, but also would hold fifth should Villa fail to defeat host West Ham United.
At home, Blackburn Rovers had little trouble defeating Derby County 3-1. Derby did manage to take a lead when Kenny Miller beat a woeful attempt at an offside trap in the 19th minute. Going in alone, Miller shot under U.S. keeper Brad Friedel.
Roque Santa Cruz tied matters in the 45th minute with the first of his two goals, while Jason Roberts out Rovers ahead 2-1 two minutes after intermission. Friedel made two saves.
Midfielder Eddie Lewis played 72 minutes for Derby, mostly defending as Rovers pushed forward. Benny Feilhaber, Lewis' U.S. teammate, who saw his first action in months with 30 minutes a week earlier, was dressed, but did not leave the Derby bench.
Even by defeating Reading Sunday, Derby has clinched the worst record ever in the Premier League, erasing the previous low of 15 points by Sunderland two years ago.
Blackburn (15-9-13, 58) is seventh, one point behind Aston Villa.
West Ham manager Alan Curbishley dressed three of his younger players, James Tomkins, Jack Collison and Freddie Sears, and did not bring U.S. defender Jonathan Spector to Old Trafford where host Manchester United won 4-1 despite being a man down for the final hour.
Spector has been in and out of the West Ham lineup in recent weeks with a bad hip.
Watford makes promotion playoffs
Watford staggered into the second-level League Championship playoffs for a place in the Premiership, but barely.
Watford closed its regular season Sunday by coming from behind to draw 1-1 with Blackpool on the road. Watford fell a position to sixth place, the last playoff spot, and into a tie with Wolverhampton. Both teams were 18-12-16 with 70 points, but the Hornets' plus-6 goal differential was one better than Wolves.
Wolves got a late goal from Seyi George Olofinjana to defeat Plymouth 1-0 to catch Watford, but would up short by the narrowest of margins.
Meanwhile, Crystal Palace, which started the day a point behind Watford, registered a smashing 5-0 victory over Burnley, which played a portion of the match with 10 men. Palace (18-11-17) finished fifth, one point ahead of Watford.
Watford spent much of the season in first or second place before a late slump and closed the year 1-3-2 in its last six outings.
Defenders Leigh Bromby and Mathew Sadler returned from injury to the Watford lineup against Blackpool. Thus, American Jay DeMerit who is still trying to regain full fitness from a knee problem that had him in and out of the lineup the last six weeks, did not dress.
American goalkeeper Matt Pickens separated a shoulder in training and was not on the bench for visiting Queens Park Rangers, who lost to league champion West Bromwich Albion 2-0 in their season finale.