Saints hit back late on to take a valuable point at Craven Cottage through Rickie Lambert’s penalty.
It was very much a game of two halves in West London, but a resilient Saints were undone early on in the game through Dimitar Berbatov’s sixth goal of the season as he tapped home a rebound which gave Fulham a lead which they held at the interval with few problems.
In the second 45 however, Saints were a rejuvenated side and it looked as though a matter of time before they would level up. The longer that wait went on though, the more it appeared that Saints would be leaving empty handed for the seventh time on the road this season, that was, until a penalty was awarded six minutes from the end by referee Phil Dowd.
Former Saints man Chris Baird handled a Gaston Ramirez corner under pressure from Rickie Lambert, who dusted himself down to take the spot kick, which he rattled into the top left corner for his seventh goal of the campaign.
A late effort from Ramirez almost turned the game dramatically on its head, but the second draw of the season between these two sides was confirmed soon after, taking Nigel Adkins’ men onto 16 points as they remain outside of the bottom three.
Fulham: Schwarzer, Riise, Senderos, Hangeland, Baird, Sidwell, Berbatov, Rodallega (Karagounis 78), Dejagah (Frei 67), Riether, Kacaniklic (Ruiz 46). Subs (not used): Stockdale, Kelly, Briggs, Hughes.
Saints: K. Davis, Clyne, Fonte, Yoshida, Shaw, Schneiderlin, Cork, S. Davis (Rodriguez 78), Puncheon, Ramirez (Guly 90), Lambert. Subs (not used): Boruc, Hooiveld, Ward-Prowse, Richardson, Mayuka.
Referee: Phil Dowd
Steven Davis is restored to the starting elven at the expense of Emmanuel Mayuka who drops to the bench.
A minute’s applause was held before kick-off in memory of lost loved ones associated with both clubs, including the late goalkeeper Ian Black who played for the two teams during his career.
Hosts Fulham got the match underway, lining up with Hugo Rodallega and the returning Steve Sidwell in their side in the changes from a 4-0 defeat at Liverpool over the weekend. Saints were defending the end housing the away fans on a damp and overcast Boxing Day afternoon in West London.
It was Martin Jol’s side who battled the elements to create the first opportunity of the game with less than two minutes on the watch. Rodallega teed up Sidwell on the edge of the area, and the midfielder struck narrowly wide of Kelvin Davis’s right post.
Minutes later, an important headed clearance by Yoshida ended a slick move from the home side in which Berbatov cleverly backheeled the ball into the path of John Arne Riise to cross towards the centre of goal.
Fulham’s early pressure yielded the game’s opening goal on 8 minutes. Sascha Riether’s low cross was parried away by Davis, into the path of Bulgarian forward BERBATOV who slid in from close range to score for the first time since 10th November.
The striker was booked for his celebration in which he revealed a t-shirt that read: ‘Keep calm and pass me the ball.’
Saints responded with some neat passing moves across midfield with the aim of getting Steven Davis involved further forward, though a Lambert cross aside, Fulham’s backline were rarely troubled in the opening stages.
The hosts went close again when Berbatov headed wide from the effervescent Kacaniklic, whose crossing was proving to be reliable from the left flank.
Fulham ‘keeper Mark Schwarzer was tested however, in the 20th minute when Ramirez pounced upon a loose pass from Riether. The Uruguayan’s drive into the area saw the ball rebound out to Cork, and the midfielder’s rising strike was well held by the Australian shot stopper.
The contest opened out further after that opportunity, with Puncheon finding more joy down the right, but the wideman was then on the receiving end of a strong challenge from Berbatov that the Fulham man was perhaps fortunate not to receive a punishment from bearing in mind his earlier booking.
Ramirez and Puncheon switched flanks on the half hour in a bid to get the better of Riether and Riise on the rain soaked surface, but it was through the middle that Saints made their next attempt at goal, with Schneiderlin sliding a low strike narrowly wide of the left post.
Inside the final ten minutes of the half, Saints started to turn the screw, with Cork getting past Riise on the right to deliver a low cross which preceded a brief bombardment of red shirts in the Fulham area but no-one could get a shot away as the hosts defended bravely.
A couple of surging runs from Shaw saw the visitors remain in the ascendancy during the half’s closing stages. First, the full back linked up with Puncheon to good effect, before the youngster was surrounded by white shirts as he probed for another way through in the final third.
Adkins’ men ended the half well, but were left with plenty of work to do in the second 45 to get back into the contest.
Half Time: Fulham 1-0 Saints
Martin Jol surprisingly switched Kacaniklic for Bryan Ruiz at the interval as Fulham appeared to match Saints’ formation for the second period.
It was the visitors who made the livelier start though with Puncheon flashing a low drive across goal that went inches wide of the far post with Schwarzer beaten.
Then, on 50 Ramirez went close to picking out a perfect pass to Lambert inside the box, but the ball just got away from the frontman as he tried to bring the ball down from six yards out.
Steven Davis headed wide from a cross on the left as the Saints fans got into full voice roaring the visitors on in attack as they edged closer at that end.
Adkins’ men survived a scare though when Shaw’s slip allowed Ashkan Dejagah in on goal, but the winger screwed his shot wide as Saints went back on the offensive in search of an equaliser.
Another corner won on the right lifted the visitors once more as they continued to knock on the door. Puncheon was the next to go close when he latched onto Ramirez’s pass, but the offside flag was raised against the winger as Schwarzer made a low save.
Fulham’s first effort of the half saw Dejagah smash a shot across goal before he was replaced by Kerim Frei for the final 25 minutes or so with Saints remaining tight at the back in their quest to launch a comeback.
The aim now was to release Ramirez on the break, with Saints trying a number of ways to play the Uruguayan in on goal, but the hosts remained resilient in keeping Adkins’ men at bay.
As the final quarter of an hour approached, Riise was booked for a foul on Puncheon before Lambert swiped a volley over from a Shaw cross which was flicked on by Fonte into the striker’s path.
Both sides then made a change apiece with Rodriguez replacing Steven Davis, whilst Rodallega went off to make way Giorgos Karagounis.
Another burst forward from Puncheon almost created a way through on the right once more before Rodriguez made in roads down the left which saw Saints win another corner as the clock reached 83 minutes.
The lock on the door was opened when a penalty was then awarded to Saints when Chris Baird handled a Ramirez corner. Brede Hangeland was booked amongst the protests from the home side, but it didn’t put off LAMBERT who smashed his spot kick into the top left despite Schwarzer getting a hand to it for 1-1.
The goal was a just reward for the visitors who had an extra spring in their step moving forward, epitomised by Ramirez’s powerful shot from distance which Schwarzer spilt and clawed back from the line as Saints went close to a quickfire double.
Further pressure from Adkins’ men saw Saints in the ascendancy again in the closing stages of the half, but it was the hosts who almost snatched another goal as four minutes of stoppages went up, when Sidwell’s powerful strike from the edge of the area flashed wide.
Saints laid siege to the Fulham goal to try and take all three points back to the south coast with Guly making a late appearance from the bench to bolster the attack, but even a late header wide from Hangeland at the other which went wide couldn’t deny a deserved point for the visitors.
Full Time: Fulham 1-1 Saints