Fulham still can’t break their away hoodoo, but there were further signs of improvement as Martin Jol’s side edged out of the relegation zone with a point at West Brom. They could have clinched a first Premier League win at the Hawthorns with some better finishing, although a couple of fine saves from Ben Foster also preserved parity.
The Whites had to do without Andy Johnson and Bobby Zamora, who were sent home on the eve of the game after falling ill, whilst Damien Duff was released due to a personal problem. That gave the likes of Orlando Sa and Pajtim Kasami another chance to impress following their appearances in the penalty shoot-out defeat by Chelsea in midweek and the Swiss midfielder almost handed Jol the perfect start. The 19 year-old, who missed a spot-kick in normal time at Stamford Bridge, thought he had given Fulham a twelfth minute lead when he turned in a rebound after Ben Foster failed to hold Clint Dempsey’s speculative shot, but Sian Massey’s offside flag cut the celebrations short. Television replays showed the decision to be the definition of borderline.
Fulham had the better of the first half, with the lively running of Sa causing problems for the home defence. The Portuguese striker did well to reach a lofted ball from Danny Murphy, but Gareth McAuley, who was outstanding on his league debut for Albion, arrived at the right time to block the shot with a sliding tackle. After Kasami’s disallowed goal, Moussa Dembele went close with a couple of strikes from distance and Foster held headers from Sa and Dempsey. The home side only threatened sporadically, with Mark Schwarzer making routine saves from a Chris Brunt header and Youssouf Mulumbu’s 25-yarder after the tenacious midfielder had robbed Kasami. Shane Long might have done better when he pounced on a poor header from Chris Baird, however, as he only managed to curl a shot over the bar from the edge of the box.
The second half was far more even. Fulham were first to threaten when Clint Dempsey’s deflected shot looped over Foster but came back off the post, but West Brom gradually gained more control in midfield thanks to Roy Hodgson’s switch to a 4-4-2. Long’s flick from a Brunt free-kick drifted round across the face of goal and Schwarzer was alert to prevent Odemwingie from converting the best chance of the match. Mulumbu sent the Nigerian clean through on goal but Schwarzer stood up well to block his shot.
Both sides had chances to claim their first league win of the season in the closing stages. Bryan Ruiz should have put Fulham in front when Foster spilled John Arne Riise’s poweful free-kick, but the Costa Rican substitute’s three-yard finish was turned onto the post by the former Birmingham goalkeeper. At the other end, Baird did well to block James Morrison’s low shot and as, the match entered added time, Chris Brunt’s low drive came back off the inside of the post from 20 yards. Sa did have the chance to make himself a hero in the last minute of injury-time, but he snatched at his shot and drove over after being played in by Dempsey down the left angle of the box.
WEST BROM (4-3-3): Foster; Reid, Shorey, McAuley, Olsson; Mulumbu, Dorrans (Morrison 78), Brunt; Odemwingie, Thomas (Tchoyi 82), Long. Subs (not used): Fulop, Dawson, Jones, Scharner, Cox.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Schwarzer; Grygera, Baird, Hangeland, J. A. Riise; Murphy (Etuhu 88), Sidwell; Kasami (Ruiz 74), Dembele, Dempsey; Sa. Subs (not used): Etheridge, Kelly, Briggs, Senderos, Gecov.
BOOKED: Hangeland, Grygera, Baird.
REFEREE: Stuart Attwell (Warwickshire).