Mark Hughes might want to keep Mark Schwarzer but if the Australian does get his move to Arsenal then at least the new Fulham manager can be sure he’s got an able deputy in David Stockdale.
The young goalkeeper, who has impressed during his fleeting first-team appearances since he signed from Darlington two years ago, was outstanding as Fulham earned their first point under their new manager with a gritty display in what wasn’t much a spectacle at Bolton this afternoon. Owen Coyle’s side made the livelier start but, with the visitors a little more threatening on the counter-attack than they might have been under Roy Hodgson, a draw seemed a fair result.
Coyle opted to pair Johan Elmander, who had enjoyed an excellent pre-season, with Kevin Davies up front and the decision nearly paid dividends early on. A clever turn from the Swede fashioned the first chance inside ten minutes but he perhaps should have added to his paltry total of eight league goals in 55 appearances rather than dragging a shot disappointingly wide. The only one of Coyle’s new signings to be given a start, Martin Petrov, was a constant danger down the Bolton left and he came close to marking his debut with a goal on several ocassions. The Bulgarian was first denied by a fine challenge from John Pantsil as he raced into the penalty area to reach an excellent ball from Kevin Davies before bringing a fine sprawling save out of Stockdale when he connected with a rasping drive from the edge of the box.
Fulham grew in confidence as the half went on, gradually gaining more of a foothold in the contest. Danny Murphy had already driven just wide of the post before Bobby Zamora, full of confidence after winning a first England cap in midweek, was unfortunate to ruffle the netting on the roof of the net with an audacious chip from 30 yards. Greitar Steinsson bravely blocked a shot from Simon Davies, but perhaps the closest Fulham came to opening the scoring owed little to the visitors’ own endeavour. Instead, there was a heart-in-mouth moment for Paul Robinson when the Bolton left back almost headed past Jussi Jaaskelainen only for the goalkeeper to smother the ball with Zamora lurking.
The second half began with a spell of Bolton pressure. American midfielder Stuart Holden drove wide from distance and Stockdale tipped over a shot on the turn from Elmander at full-stretch. Referee Stuart Atwell also infuriated the Reebook Stadium faithful by ignoring two penalty appeals. Elmander felt he should have had a penalty after tangling with Brede Hangeland, whilst the home crowd were also howling for a spot-kick when Lee Chung-Young tumbled under a challenge from Murphy, but the replays suggested Atwell was justified in not upholding either shout.
Stockdale stood up well to save once more from a frustrated Elmander and when their goalkeeper was finally beaten the frame of the goal came to their rescue. The Aberdeen-born midfielder lashed a low drive past Stockdale from the edge of the box but the ball came back off the far post. Coyle went for broke in the closing stages with three attacking substitutions designed to produce a late winner, but Fulham held firm. The visitors were largely penned back in the final quarter but substitute Clint Dempsey did cause alarm with a dangerous cross-cum-shot.
Given Bolton’s dreadful recent record against the Londoners – they haven’t beaten Fulham in eight Premier League meetings now – Coyle couldn’t be too disappointed with this result, although you suspect it was Hughes who was more pleased with the point. Fulham will have to improve for next Sunday’s date with his old side, Manchester United, though.
BOLTON WANDERERS (4-4-2): Jaaskelainen; Steinsson, Robinson, Cahill, Knight; Muamba (M. Davies 86), Holden, Lee Chung-Yong, Petrov (Taylor 86); Elmander (Klasnic 90), K. Davies. Subs (not used): Bogdan, Ricketts, O’Brien.
FULHAM (4-4-1-1): Stockdale; Pantsil, Kelly, Hughes, Hangeland; Etuhu, Murphy, Duff, S. Davies; Gera (Dempsey 74); Zamora. Subs (not used): Zuberbuhler, Stoor, Baird, Greening, Riise, Elm.
BOOKED: Gera, Zamora, Pantsil.
REFEREE: Stuart Attwell (Nuneaton).