Careless Fulham falter after Berbatov's early strike
Fulham 1 Southampton 1:Fulham’s descent into relegation trouble goes on. After looking capable of qualifying for Europe two months ago, Martin Jol’s team are now six points clear of the bottom three and playing with a level of carelessness that suggests their fortunes are not going to improve in the new year. They were booed off after Rickie Lambert’s deserved late equaliser and that could well become a common sound here.
Fulham have had only one win in 11 games and this result means they are undeniably in a rut.
After their 4-0 thumping by Liverpool last Saturday this was meant to be the start of the turn-around. Instead they failed to beat a side that, before yesterday, had lost six of their seven away league games this season.
What will be particular frustrating for Jol is that Fulham had started brightly, winning possession keenly and using it crisply and with purpose.
Southampton were overwhelmed in the opening stages and it came as no shock when the hosts took the lead after eight minutes through Dimitar Berbatov’s close-range strike after Kelvin Davis had made a poor attempt of dealing with Sascha Riether’s cross. In celebration Berbatov revealed a T-shirt bearing the message: “Keep calm and pass me the ball”.
It was an instruction that the Bulgarian’s team-mates became increasingly incapable of adhering to and one his manager, having seen the striker booked for taking his shirt off, did not welcome.
“That was stupid,” said Jol. “He [Berbatov] probably thought he would not get booked because he never gets booked but I will have a word with him because it’s not the brightest thing to go and do.
“He wanted to make a statement and in fairness that is something he is always telling the young players in training: to play with confidence and to play football. That is something we did not do today; we didn’t link up in midfield and in the end it was old-fashioned long-ball play, which is not what we wanted.”
Southampton deserve credit, too, for how they weathered the storm and eventually began to exert control, with the midfield pair of Morgan Schneiderlin and Jack Cork distributing possession intelligently. In Jason Puncheon, who played on both right and left flanks here, they had a constant outlet.
As Fulham’s passing became erratic and their energy levels dipped, the visitors grew in confidence and Puncheon hit an instinctive drive from the edge of the area that fizzed just wide of the far post.
The pressure continued and Southampton were rewarded five minutes from time when the referee, Phil Dowd, deemed Chris Baird had handled Gaston Ramirez’s corner while under pressure from Lambert. Southampton’s top scorer drove in the resulting penalty for his seventh of the season.
Fulham did have chances to win the game , most notably through Brede Hangeland’s header in stoppage time, but there was to be no salvation.
“The players showed good resolve and to leave a game away from home with something is important,” said Nigel Adkins, the Southampton manager.