Carlos Bocanegra cancelled out John Carew’s controversial opener to earn Fulham a share of the spoils in a draw with Aston Villa at Craven Cottage.

Carew, who came close to a move to Fulham under Jean Tigana before failing a medical, broke the deadlock when he slid the ball past Antti Niemi, but Fulham midfielder Alexey Smertin appeared to be impeded by referee Lee Mason in the build-up.

Bocanegra provided an immediate riposte, however, heading in at the far post to seal the fifth successive draw in this fixture. Villa still haven’t mustered a league win since November but they are now inching nearer to safety. Similarly, Fulham boss Chris Coleman has been worriedly looking over his shoulder after a run of three games without a victory and Bocanegra’s equaliser offered relief after that miserable run.

A scrappy first half was only illuminated when Michael Brown’s volley looped off Gareth Barry and came back off the crossbar. Referee Mason took centre stage midway through the first half when he waved play on despite Barry’s manhandling of Smertin on the halfway line and then got in the way of the Russian midfielder as he tried to clear the danger, letting Barry burst forward and release Carew to finish clinically against the side he nearly side for five years back. The Norwegian striker was delighted to demonstrate there was nothing wrong with his jumper’s knee and was cautioned for celebrating his second Villa goal with the travelling fans.

But the visitors’ lead lasted barely two minutes. Quedrue’s driven free-kick reached Bocanegra, who had evaded their defenders to head home his third goal of the season from close range. Fulham dominated the remainder of the first half with Sorensen making a smart double save with his legs to thwart Brown and McBride in quick succession after a fine pass from Tomasz Radzinski had unlocked the Villa rearguard.

Fulham’s forward momentum continued after the break and Brown drilled against the woodwork from an acute angle after Sorensen had let go of a cross and held a Smertin strike moments later. McBride volley wide from the edge of the area before Coleman sent on Heidar Helguson in search of a winner, but it was Villa who created the clearer chances towards the end. Stilian Petrov shot wide from distance and Niemi was called into action to deny Carew after the Norwegian’s shot and turn threatened a dramatic winner in added time.

FULHAM (4-5-1): Niemi; Rosenior, Quedrue, Pearce, Bocanegra; Diop, Brown, Smertin, Davies, Radzinski (Helguson 71); McBride (John 80). Subs (not used): Lastuvka, Dempsey.

GOAL: Bocanegra (23).

ASTON VILLA (4-4-2): Sorensen; Bardsley, Mellberg, Laursen (Cahill 56), Bouma; Maloney (Agbonlahor 67), Petrov, McCann, Barry; Carew, Young. Subs (not used): Taylor, Hughes, Davis.

BOOKED: Carew, McCann.

GOAL: Carew (21).

REFEREE: Lee Mason (Lancashire).