Gordon Strachan was angry that his Southampton team were "the only ones trying to win" yesterday's disappointing match, but his counterpart, Chris Coleman, won't care. All that matters to the Fulham manager is that, in early February, his side are now just a few points away from safety.
Not bad for the League's most inexperienced coach. "I would have bitten your hand off if I'd been offered this position at the start of the season," said Coleman, who said that his team did not play particularly well because of their exertions in the midweek FA Cup win over Everton.
Strachan was less forgiving. "We wanted to win," said the Scot, whose honesty will be missed when he takes a sabbatical at the season's end. "We played the football we want to see and just couldn't get past loads of defenders."
Strachan might also have pointed to his players' inability to convert the few chances they did create. With 22 minutes gone, Kevin Phillips launched a deep cross into the path of the unmarked Brett Ormerod, whose left-foot volley was brilliantly tipped over by Edwin van der Sar. Fulham were struggling, and very nearly buckled five minutes before the break, when Phillips showed good vision once more to release Anders Svensson inside the Fulham area. The Swedish midfielder's shot was on target, but Van der Sar spread himself well.
Less than two minutes after the restart, Ormerod wiggled free of a defensive sandwich before firing in a low shot at goal. No prizes for guessing who got a foot to the ball. One would expect Van der Sar to save at his near post, but the big Dutchman nonetheless showed excellent reflexes and agility to get down so low.
Back came Southampton again, with Phillips, inevitably, finding Rory Delap lurking in the penalty box, only for the Republic of Ireland international to shoot high and wide from five yards. After 56 minutes, Southampton's towering centre-back Michael Svensson headed Graeme Le Saux's corner on target, but this time Moritz Volz was well placed to clear off the line.
Nothing went Southampton's way, including the referee's decisions. Ian Pearce was lucky not to concede a penalty when he appeared to handle Le Saux's low cross. "That ball-to-hand thing is a cop-out," Strachan said.
Sensing this was not their team's day on the pitch, Southampton's fans turned their attentions to more pressing off-field matters, namely the possible return of their former manager, Glenn Hoddle, in the summer. The Saints faithful made their feelings clear by repeatedly singing derogatory songs about the man who walked out on the club three years ago to take charge at Tottenham.
As is so often the case in a one-sided game, the team under the cosh might have nicked a winner, as Sean Davis found space on the right of the Southampton penalty box before cutting the ball back to Brian McBride. The American's instant right-foot shot looked goal-bound but was bravely blocked by Danny Higginbotham.
Southampton 0 Fulham 0
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