James Beattie spared Southampton’s blushes by scoring a crucial away goal to give the Premiership side the edge after enthralling League Cup second round first leg tie at Craven Cottage tonight.

The striker, who had been left out of Dave Jones’ starting line-up but was summoned from the bench after half an hour following an injury to Egil Ostenstadt, beat Maik Taylor with a low drive after racing onto a pass from Carlton Palmer to bring the Saints level in an absorbing encounter by the banks of the Thames. The visitors were indebted to a number of splendid saves from goalkeeper Paul Jones that prevented Second Division Fulham from taking a lead to the Dell in eight day’s time.

Kevin Keegan’s side had much the better of the first half, with Southampton initially struggling to contain a Fulham forward line that featured three strikers, including youngster Luke Cornwall. The clever movement of Peter Beardsley, who frequently dropped into deep positions to avoid his markers, made space for Dirk Lehmann, who was twice denied at point blank range by Jones.

Fulham were successful in largely nullifying the mercurial talent of Matt Le Tissier, although Southampton’s plans were again disrupted by injury when midfielder David Howells limped off just before the break. The Cottagers kept pushing in the second period and were reward nine minutes after the interval, with the opening goal coming from a set play. Steve Hayward’s deep free-kick, awarded after Jason Dodd had bundled over Lehmann, was headed on by Kit Symons and Chris Coleman nodded home having leapt highest three yards out.

Craven Cottage erupted but the goal prompted Southampton to be much more adventurous. They got their equaliser through Beattie, whose early shot from outside the area surprised Taylor. It was perfectly directed into the bottom corner, although the former Southampton goalkeeper looked crestfallen to have been beaten from that far out. An intriguing second leg will now decide which of these sides progresses in the competition – you have to wonder whether Fulham have missed their chance for a giantkilling?

FULHAM (4-3-3): Taylor; Morgan, Brevett, Coleman, Symons; Bracewell, Hayward, Collins; Beardsley, Cornwall (Davis 74), Lehmann. Subs (not used): Arendse, Uhlenbeek, Neilson, Trollope.

BOOKED: Morgan, Hayward, Bracewell.

GOAL: Coleman (54).

SOUTHAMPTON (4-3-3): Jones; Dodd, Benali, Gibbons, Warner; Palmer, Howells (Lundekvam 43), Le Tissier; Ostendstadt (Beattie 30), Ripley, Hughes.

BOOKED: Hughes, Howells.

GOAL: Beattie (62).

REFEREE: Mike Reed