Jose Fonte scored a last-minute equaliser - his second goal of the game - to salvage a point for Southampton after they had earlier thrown away yet another lead.
The Portuguese centre-back had given the home side the lead inside four minutes from an Adam Lallana corner as Saints impressed early on. But with Nigel Adkins' side having dropped nine points from winning positions going into this game, Fulham were always in it and turned the game around through a Jos Hooiveld own goal and a deflected Kieran Richardson strike late on - only for Fonte to have the final say.
Adkins was unable to count on the services of record signing Gaston Ramirez who was ruled out with a dead leg. Curiously, Nathaniel Clyne was also missing with the same injury. They were replaced by Jason Puncheon and Danny Fox while Morgan Schneiderlin came in for James Ward-Prowse in midfield.
Martin Jol made one enforced change to his team as Alexander Kacaniklic came into the team for the injured Mladen Petric who joined fellow forward Dimitar Berbatov on the injury list at Craven Cottage. Mark Schwarzer made his first appearance since turning 40 and Giorgos Karagounis was made to wait for his first start after coming off the bench late on against Manchester City.
Saints adopted a pressing game in the early stages and it worked remarkably well with Brede Hangeland and even Schwarzer giving away possession as the home side pressed high up the field. As Adkins said after the game: "Our first half is a little better when pressing up there but if you don't press as a unit..." And it was this that proved costly as the game became wide open in the second half.
"It was almost like we were worried to play our football," said Jol of his team's first-half display. In truth, they had good reason to be concerned such was the manner in which Southampton were pressing. But as the home side faded after the break it became easier for the likes of Bryan Ruiz to get on the ball and find pockets of space for the visitors.
The home side were forced into a change just minutes into the game and ultimately it may have proved costly. Hooiveld came on for the injured Fraser Richardson and Maya Yoshida was forced to switch to right-back. That never looked like working against the lively Kacaniklic and, unfortunately, Hooiveld also had something of a nightmare - twice deflecting past his own keeper. The withdrawals of Puncheon and Rickie Lambert seemed to be an attempt to spare tiring legs but it didn't help Southampton regain control of the game.
Fulham introduced Richardson midway through the second half and for all Kacaniklic's trickery on the left, the former England international's more direct approach reaped dividends. Yoshida did well to track an early run to the near post but moments later Richardson was on the charge again to score what looked like being the winning goal. Jol's only other change was the introduction of Karagounis for his second appearance since his free transfer arrival last month.
Mark Clattenburg missed a handball from Fonte early on and could have awarded the free-kick from which Saints equalised the other way given that Karagounis had been fouled seconds earlier. But on the whole it was not a game marked by controversy and - refreshingly - both the managers were bemoaning their own side's mistakes rather than those of the officials at the end.
Adkins simply must address the worrying habit of seeing his side falter after the break. It was clear that work had been done on the training ground to ensure his players were pressing as a unit and making it difficult for Fulham to pass at their leisure early on. But then it became disjointed and the home side never looked like closing the match out. It's easy to imagine that Saints could be left rueing dropped points come May.
Bizarrely, Jol will also be frustrated for similar reasons - his side's inability to cling onto their lead. The manager had every right to expect Hangeland to be winning headers against Fonte. But once the dust has settled Jol will be encouraged to have got something from a game in which he was robbed of his two best sources of a goal before the game had even begun.
|1||1st Half Goals||0|
|4||Shots on Target||3|
|6||Shots off Target||6|
|36.7||1st Half Poss.||63.3|
|45.9||2nd Half Poss.||54.1|