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Rickie Lambert’s late penalty secured Southampton a hard-earned point in west London as Fulham’s poor recent run continued following a 1-1 draw.
The Boxing Day encounter at Craven Cottage was of grave importance to both sides given their position near the relegation zone.
Fulham came into the match with just one win in 10 matches but got off to the best possible start, taking the lead inside eight minutes, when Kelvin Davis fumbled Sascha Riether’s cross into the path of Dimitar Berbatov, who duly slotted home off balance at the far post.
Southampton gradually battled their way back into the game, however, and after a number of missed opportunities, grabbed a late leveller as Saints academy graduate Chris Baird was adjudged to have handled a Gaston Ramirez corner, allowing Lambert to continue his 100 per cent success rate from the spot five minutes from time.
Though they scored early on Fulham might have taken the lead after just three minutes when Steven Sidwell, one of three Fulham changes, rifled a low shot from the edge of the area just wide.
It epitomised a bright start from the hosts, who needed just eight minutes to score the opener. Riether’s low driven ball from the right was spilled by goalkeeper Davis, allowing Berbatov to slot in from close range.
The former Manchester United striker was booked for revealing a personalised T-shirt when celebrating but might have soon had a second goal, nodding wide a weighted Alex Kacaniklic cross.
Southampton’s first opportunity of note took 20 minutes to create, with a fierce Jack Cork strike from 25 yards well dealt with by Mark Schwarzer.
The Australian’s opposite number Davis dealt with a deflected John Arne Riise shot before Morgan Schneiderlin fired wide and a fizzing Lambert cross was cleared from danger by Baird.
Martin Jol brought on Bryan Ruiz in place of the impressive Kacaniklic for the second half, with Puncheon fizzing an effort wide shortly after the restart.
Fulham were waiting patiently for their second goal, which was almost gifted to them by Luke Shaw. The 17-year-old left-back’s uncharacteristic slip allowed Ashkan Dejagah through on goal, but the winger lost his bearings and fired well wide.
Dejagah then saw his cross-shot flash wide moments before being replaced by Kerim Frei, with Brede Hangeland having an effort blocked soon after.
Saints, though, were proving a thorn in Fulham’s side, with Lambert coming close with a thumping volley 13 minutes from time.
Nigel Adkins brought on Jay Rodriguez in a late bid to find an equaliser, which came in the 85th minute as Ramirez floated in a corner from the left and Baird was adjudged to have handled under pressure from Lambert, who stepped up to fire into the top left-hand corner.
Ramirez then almost won it for the Saints with an audacious 25-yard strike that slipped out of Schwarzer’s grasp and had to be stopped on the line.
At the other end, Sidwell flashed a volley inches wide and Hangeland came close in stoppage time but Adkins’s side held out for a point.
Fulham manager Martin Jol: “I’m very disappointed that we didn’t take the three points, but I don’t think we played well enough to say we deserved the three points.
“It was a stupid handball but you have to score two or three goals to make life easy for yourself. We couldn’t play the way we wanted to play. We didn’t link up in midfield and it was almost an old-fashioned long-ball game today which is not what we want.
“I am angry. I am like a thunderstorm. We could have scored more. [Steve] Sidwell and [Dimitar] Berbatov had a couple of chances but it wasn’t enough to take the three points. Over the last five or six weeks we haven’t been good enough.
“We want to be successful. It’s not long ago that Danny Murphy had to score on the last day against Portsmouth and Clint Dempsey had to score against Liverpool a few years later. We don’t want that again and we have got the players to be successful when everyone is fit.”
Southampton manager Nigel Adkins: "The players have shown a good resolve. When you come away from home, to leave with something is important.
"If you look at the second half I think we've had a good amount of possession, a few opportunities. We scored a penalty but I think in the second half we looked like the team likely to go on and win the game.
"It is about picking up results. At the start of the campaign we played eight out of the top 10 in our first 10 games of the season. The goals against column consistently now is more reduced to what it was.
"There's a togetherness about everybody and maybe we are not getting punished like we were at the start of the campaign but there's a growing experience. The players are working very hard for each other and we are maturing all the time."
|29 Dec 2012||v Swansea (H)|
|01 Jan 2013||v West Brom (A)|
|12 Jan 2013||v Wigan (H)|
|19 Jan 2013||v Man City (A)|
|30 Jan 2013||v West Ham (H)|
|02 Feb 2013||v Man Utd (H)|