When Fulham thumped Norwich 5-0 on the opening day of the season it might have seemed that they were at the start of something good. Clearly, they were fooling. Six months later they and Norwich each have 29 points, and it is difficult on this evidence to declare one to be less mediocre than the other.
But these things happen when two sides short on confidence find themselves reluctant to commit to attacking the other for fear of making mistakes. Midfielders looking for a passing option tended to go sideways or backwards; forwards with the chance to shoot were inclined to take a touch too many. There were moments at which the deadlock might have been broken, but not many.
For Fulham, winning a point away from home, there was probably greater satisfaction. It was true that they managed just one shot on target, but Martin Jol had prepared for the trip with 10 players away on international duty and was forced into changes when Sascha Riether and Chris Baird cried off sick, which meant debuts for Stanislav Manolev and Emmanuel Frimpong. Manolev, just signed on loan from PSV Eindhoven, was not even in the original squad.
“He wasn’t even here,” Jol said. “He had to come up in a taxi from London.” In the event he slotted in seamlessly, which was asking a lot of him given that Riether has been one of Fulham’s outstanding performers this season.
Another is Dimitar Berbatov, who at least carries the threat of a goal even if his tally of eight is respectable rather than eyecatching. There were good touches, good uses of space by the Bulgarian but he did not muster a shot of note, although his performance was not helped by having Bradley Johnson’s boot connect with the bridge of his nose in the opening minutes, requiring him to leave the field to have a stitch inserted.
The incident narked Jol, who came up with the unusual suggestion that Johnson should have been required to leave the field as well.
“It is a ridiculous rule,” Jol said. “We were 10 against 11 while Dimitar was off the field. Their player should have to go off as well.”
At least Fulham kept a clean sheet, their first in 12 matches, although three wins from 18 is the more telling statistic. Norwich, on the other hand, have no wins in nine in the Premier League. Just as well they went unbeaten in 10 earlier in the campaign.
“It is disappointing because we were looking to get three points as the home team,” the Norwich manager, Chris Hughton, said. “We have been on a bad run but that’s three draws in a row so we have stopped the run in terms of defeats.”
One goal in six matches in all competitions is clearly a concern, although there was encouragement from Luciano Becchio (left) and Kei Kamara, two January acquisitions.
Becchio’s best chance, on the end of a Javier Garrido pass after five minutes, possibly came too early in the former Leeds player’s first start. But he kept Brede Hangeland and Philippe Senderos busy. Kamara, not ready to start after arriving midweek from Kansas, looked sharp and lively when he did appear in the closing minutes and it was significant that Norwich’s best chance, volleyed wide by Johnson, followed his introduction.
Norwich (4-4-2): Bunn; R Martin, Bassong, Turner, Garrido; Snodgrass, Tettey, Johnson, E Bennett (Jackson, 75); Becchio (Kamara, 85), Hoolahan.
Fulham (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer; Manolev, Senderos, Hangeland, Riise; Ruiz (Dejagah, 90), Frimpong (Urby, 63), Sidwell, Duff; Berbatov; Rodallega (Petric, 75).
Referee: Howard Webb.
Man of the match: R Martin (Norwich)
Match rating: 5/10