In his programme notes yesterday Southampton manager Nigel Adkins stressed the need for “positivity”.
In that spirit he commended his team’s first-half display, was pleased at further proof of their ability to score goals in the top flight, and praised their character in rallying to salvage a last-minute draw.
However, positivity must be tempered with realism and he admitted games like this need to be won if Southampton are to back up their successive promotions by consolidating in the Premier League. And he knows that while Saints may be scoring at this level they are also conceding: 20 times in seven games to date.
“We have conceded too many goals,” said Adkins. “We have to defend as a team. We pressed well in the first-half but we dropped off in the second, the game became too open and that allowed Fulham to play.”
As a consequence Jose Fonte’s fourth-minute goal was overhauled in the last quarter by two from Fulham, a Jos Hooiveld own goal and Kieren Richardson’s first for the club. A third home defeat in four league games loomed, then Fonte rose again to equalise in the last minute.
Martin Jol was unhappy that Fulham had not been given a free-kick in the build-up to that goal but limited his criticism of referee Mark Clattenburg to: “It was 100 per cent a free-kick, it was as if he didn’t see it.” His restraint was, he said, “because you cannot say anything in England, you get fined. I get good wages but I don’t want to pay a fine.”
Jol’s players had begun as if still digesting a Sunday roast enabling Saints to force a succession of corners, none of them defended convincingly. Eventually Adam Lallana dipped one over Hugo Rodallega at the near post and Fonte looped a header into the top corner of the back post.
Saints continued to look the better side but spurned several chances to increase their lead before the break. Rickie Lambert rolled a carefully side-footed shot wide after a slick passing move. Sasha Riether cleared off the line from Jason Puncheon after another Lallana corner had unsettled Fulham. And Puncheon picked out Lambert at the far post only for Saint’s leading scorer to blast his shot at Mark Schwarzer.
It seemed inconceivable that Fulham could play as badly after the break but Southampton initially maintained their control. On the hour, though, Fulham stirred. In a burst of concerted pressure Steve Sidwell hit the post, Paulo Gazzaniga saved a point-blank header by Rodallega, and Maya Yoshida blocked another effort by the Colombian with his arm. It wold have been a harsh penalty as Yoshida’s arm was by his side and the contact seemed inadvertent.
In an attempt to close the game down Adkins, to home supporters’ displeasure, replaced the misfiring Lambert with Guly Do Prado. But the Brazilian had barely got into the game when Fulham levelled after the hapless Hooiveld turned an off-target shot by John Arne Riise into his own net.
It seemed there could be only one winner from then on and though Richardson drove over from one Riether cross he impressively converted the overlapping right-back’s next delivery. Game over, surely, but in the final minute of normal time Dan Fox swung in a deep free-kick and Fonte spoiled Schwarzer’s 40th birthday weekend.
Showing the positivity Adkins will need this season he summed up: “We showed great character. At 1-0 it was two points lost, but from 1-2 it was a point gained.”