For the second time this season, a storming Southampton comeback had Jean Tigana scratching his head. At St. Mary’s in the reverse fixture, Fulham swept into a 2-0 lead before losing 4-2 following a brilliant James Beattie hat-trick. Here, the Cottagers had everything under control – leading by two goals heading in the final ten minutes. But the Saints stole a point as James Beattie headed in Matt Oakley’s corner and then defender Michael Svensson equalised two minutes into added time – following up after goalkeeper Antti Niemi had struck the crossbar with a venomous volley.
Most of the Fulham fans inside Loftus Road stood stunned for minutes afterwards trying to comprehend how their side’s commanding advantage had just vanished. The point was no more than the away side deserved as they had made the stronger side earlier in the afternoon. Beattie perhaps should have beaten Martin Herrera in the Fulham goal after Alain Goma had failed to make a routine clearance having been preoccupied by the presence of Brett Ormerod.
Fulham went close midway through the first half when Niemi produced a magnificent stop to keep out Steve Marlet’s downward header from Steed Malbranque’s cross. Herrera, looking nervous on his first Fulham start, dropped a corner in the six yard box and was fortunate to have Andy Melville on hand to hack it away. Beattie could have punished a dozing defence having ghosted onto a Jason Dodd cross but guided his header wide.
Niemi stood tall to prevent Marlet from lashing Fulham into the lead after the French international had spun away from Claus Lundekvam but the Whites had a let off at the other end when Herrera’s horrible clearance gave Oakley an opportunity to take aim from 30 yards. The midfielder’s measured chip ended up on the roof of the net.
Fulham went in front just before the interval as Malbranque did brilliantly to dig out a cross and Saha superbly hooked the ball over his shoulder and past a helpless Niemi as several Saints defenders simply stood and watched. Niemi had to head against his own bar after being played into trouble by an overhit Dodd backpass and Fulham soon had a second as the unfortunate Svensson diverted Saha’s shot into his own net.
It looked like the floodgates might open after that but Southampton’s resolve stiffened. They harboured feint hopes of a fightback that grew when Beattie guided in his 20th goal of the season from an Oakley corner. Another set piece was the key for Southampton to snatch a point two minutes into stoppage time. Niemi came forward for the corner and shook the crossbar with a powerful strike, with Svensson on hand to sweep home the rebound and spark joyous scenes of celebration at the School End.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Herera; Ouaddoh, Harley, Goma, Melville; Djetou, Legwinski, Malbranque, Wome (Inamoto 45; Stolcers 84); Saha, Marlet. Subs (not used): Thomspon, Leacock, Sava.
GOALS: Marlet (44), M. Svensson (o.g. 52).
SOUTHAMPTON (4-4-2): Niemi; Dodd (Higginbotham 69), Lundekvam, M. Svensson; Oakley, Telfer, Prutton (Davies 79), Fernandes (Tessem 56); Ormerod, Beattie. Subs (not used): Jones, Williams.
GOALS: Beattie (80), M. Svensson (90+2).
REFEREE: Paul Durkin (Dorset).