Fulham could fast be becoming a second half team. Just as was the case against Blackburn in midweek, Roy Hodgson headed into half-time mulling over a turgid first 45 minutes, lacking in creativity or the zeal his side required to impose themselves on the game. Worse than on Wednesday, Fulham trailed at the interval to a well-taken goal from Ivan Klasnic and had only threatened the Bolton goal spasmodically in a disappointing first half.
Following some presumably stern words from Hodgson, his team emerged early for the start of the second period and were markedly improved. Gone was the hesitancy and Bolton’s previously high defensive line and constant pressing was a thing of the past. Suddenly, the visitors looked brittle and more like a side who had lost their last three league matches. Gary Megson’s absorbed what seemed like overwhelming pressure admirably and managed to hold out for 75 minutes. Even then, Jussi Jaaskelainen was only beaten by a sublime finish from the lively Damien Duff.
You might have expected a little less potency from Fulham with Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson both missing, the later having had an exploratory operation to try and relieve niggling pain. Yet, Hodgson’s makeshift front pairing of Erik Nevland and Clint Dempsey looked particularly blunt, with the American frequently choosing the wrong option at the decisive moment. This showing exemplified the pitfalls of playing Dempsey, who has a happy knack of weighing in with crucial goals, as a target man.
Chances were far and few between in a sophorific first period. Bolton were direct and uncompromising with Kevin Davies and Matthew Taylor offering support for Klasnic, who got the better of Brede Hangeland. Indeed, the Bolton goal arrived as a result of a mistake from the Norwegian defender as the Croatian turned him all too easily to drill Gary Cahill’s flick on past Mark Schwarzer after Fulham had failed to clear a long throw. That was all the more ironic as the Craven Cottage feelgood factor was largely created by yesterday’s news that Hangeland had put pen to paper on a new four-year contract.
Fulham lacked their usual rhythm in their passing, something which was hardly helped by referee Steve Bennett’s failure to clamp down on some aggressive Bolton tackling. Even allowing for that, Hodgson’s side were poor. When they did have the ball, Fulham were ponderous and there were only two moments of alarm inside the Bolton penalty area in the entire first half. Nevland looked like he’d fired the home side ahead from four yards after the ball bobbled around at a corner only for Gretar Steinsson to block his shot. The Icelandic defender was in the right place again shortly afterwards to slide into a challenge on Zoltan Gera just as the Hungarian arrived to apply the finishing touch to Fulham’s most fluent move. Jonathan Greening’s scooped shot high into the Putney End, which came only moments before he was booked after an outrageous dive from Gavin McCann, summed up the frustration.
Fulham carried considerably greater threat after the break. Dempsey thought he had headed the equaliser from a corner only for Matt Taylor to nod the ball to safety on the line. Jaaskelainen was at his agile best somehow tip over a Nevland volley and Cahill blocked Gera’s overheaded kick – that looked to heading for the far corner – at point blank range. Duff had already extended the goalkeeper with an effort from range and Gera’s drive had flashed just wide as Fulham went in search of an equaliser. It looked as if Hodgson was about to make drastic changes, with both Eddie Johnson and Kagisho Dikgacoi stripped and ready to come on, when Fulham eventually equalised.
Dempsey and Gera were both involved in the build up and Hungarian found Duff, who had veered into the old inside right position. With a forest of legs between him and the far corner, the chances of a shot creeping beyond Jaaskelainen seemed remote but the Irish winger offered a reminder of his quality by squeezing his shot just the inside post. It was a moment of quality that didn’t belong in such a scrappy performance.
The momentum suddenly swung Fulham’s way. Duff drove just wide from 20 yards and Simon Davies narrowly failed to find Nevland with a through ball but for, all the home side’s pressure, Bolton spurned the best chance. Steinsson found himself free after some slack marking at a Taylor free-kick but inexplicably headed over. In the final of four added minutes, Dempsey looked to have got clear of Cahill but lifted his shot disappointingly over Jaaskelainen’s crossbar.
Disappointing? Yes. But collecting a point was something to be thankful for as it looked for so long as though Bolton might break their winless run.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil (S. Davies 68), Konchesky, Hughes, Hangeland; Baird, Greening, Duff, Gera (Dikgacoi 81); Nevland, Dempsey. Subs (not used): Stockdale, Smalling, Riise, Seol, E. Johnson.
GOAL: Duff (75)
BOLTON WANDERERS (4-5-1): Jaaskelainen; Steinsson, Samuel, Cahill, A. O’Brien; Gardner, McCann, Cohen (M. Davies 78), Taylor, K. Davies; Klasnic (Muamba 61). Subs (not used): Al-Habsi, Knight, Ricketts, Lee, Elmander.
BOOKED: K. Davies, Steinsson, Gardner, McCann, Jaaskelainen, Samuel.
GOAL: Klasnic (35).
REFEREE: Steve Bennett (Kent).