Southampton signed off for 2022 with a disappointing 2-1 defeat at Fulham in the Premier League.
Without any luck in the capital, a promising start went without reward, compounded when Andreas Pereira’s volley from 18 yards was cruelly deflected into his own net by James Ward-Prowse.
Taking matters into his own hands, Saints’ captain took fortune out of the equation with a stunning trademark free-kick 10 minutes after the restart, levelling the scores from 30 yards.
Bolstered by the equaliser, Nathan Jones’s side looked most likely to notch a winner, only for João Palhinha to strike late on to end the year on a cruel note for the visitors.
Defeated on Boxing Day at the hands of Brighton, Jones made three changes to his starting line-up, restoring Armel Bella-Kotchap and Ainsley Maitland-Niles as part of a back five.
Further forward, Joe Aribo tucked in behind striker Ché Adams as Ibrahima Diallo and Romain Perraud dropped to the bench, with Moussa Djenepo omitted from the matchday squad.
Fresh from a 3-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace a week previous, it was no surprise to see the hosts produce the game’s first meaningful opportunity just past the 10-minute mark.
Full of confidence in attack, Pereira linked up nicely with compatriot Willian to earn the latter a shooting opportunity on the edge of the box, with the Brazilian’s half-volley skimming the side-netting as it whistled past Gavin Bazunu’s goal.
The opportunity triggered a good spell for Marco Silva’s side, with Willian occupying Maitland-Niles on Saints’ right-hand side.
However, it was a counter-attack down Fulham’s right that could, and perhaps should, have given Saints the lead on 19 minutes.
A well-timed ball over the top from Mohamed Elyounoussi saw Adams beat the offside trap, but while taking a touch to move the ball onto his right foot, Bernd Leno raced from his line to reduce the angle and get a glancing touch to Adams’s effort to thwart the striker.
From the resulting corner, only a last-ditch block from João Palhinha denied Adams from a tight angle, before the lively Sam Edozie fired a low drive into the arms of Leno after cutting in off the left wing, as the Hampshire outfit took charge of proceedings.
As the pendulum of momentum swung in favour of Southampton, the hosts broke the deadlock in fortuitous fashion on 33 minutes.
Willian’s corner cleverly missed out the huddle of players in the middle and instead opted for the unmarked Pereira on the edge of the box, with the midfielder’s volley taking a big deflection off of Ward-Prowse to divert the ball past a hapless Bazunu.
The difference at the break, Saints’ captain soon set about ensuring his name would appear on the correct side of the scoreboard, doing so in mesmerising fashion.
Placing the ball centrally for a free-kick from 30 yards, the set-piece specialist whipped the ball over the wall to nestle in the bottom corner leaving Leno sprawled out with 56 minutes on the clock.
The captain’s moment of magic visibly inspired Saints, who almost made it two goals in as many minutes when Edozie was only thwarted by a combination of Kenny Tete and Leno having wriggled into the box.
With the hosts rattled, the visitors continued to pour forward as a basketball-style full-court press engulfed any Fulham attempts to slow the onslaught.
Stuart Armstrong, introduced for Joe Aribo, added some attacking spark although clearcut chances remained elusive despite enjoying some good territory.
At the other end, a spilled Bazunu claim saw Antonee Robinson blaze a strike over the bar from the edge of the box, as the game ticked towards the final quarter-of-an-hour.
With Perraud replacing a fatigued Edozie, Southampton’s bolstered defensive numbers had to be aware as the Cottagers rallied late on, but a set-play once again undid Saints’ hard work late on.
Pereira’s corner was flicked on to Palhinha at the back post, who had the simplest of tasks from two yards out.
Seven additional minutes offered late hope as Roméo Lavia, Sékou Mara and Adam Armstrong were all introduced, but it was Fulham who won a penalty with the chance to put the game beyond doubt.
A mix-up between Lyanco and Bazunu saw the defender fell Dan James in the box, but Bazunu guessed correctly to deny Aleksandar Mitrovic to prolong the tense conclusion, one which the hosts saw out to continue Nathan Jones’s wait for his first Premier League points as Southampton manager.