On this evidence, life without Bobby Zamora could be very painful indeed. Clint Dempsey toiled manfully as a makeshift striker, even squeezing home his tenth league goal of the campaign, but Fulham were made to pay for their prolificacy as Roy Hodgson’s West Brom grabbed a point on his first return to Craven Cottage thanks to a late strike from substitute Somen Tchoyi.
Despite enjoying plenty of possession and territorial dominance, Fulham rarely threatened Ben Foster in the Baggies goal. Zamora’s departure had long been predicted – given his uneasy relationship with Martin Jol – but the England striker’s switch to QPR leaves his old club desperately light up front. His immediate replacement, Pavel Pogrebnyak, didn’t receive his work permit in time to feature last night while both Andy Johnson and Moussa Dembele remained sidelined through injury.
In their absence, Dempsey played as a lone striker and the paucity of Fulham’s striking resources was highlighted by the fact that 19 year-old Italian striker Marcello Trotta, fresh from a successful loan spell at Wycombe, was their only forward option on the bench. Simon Davies made his 300th Premier League appearance in midfield, but in a largely forgettable first half Fulham made little impression on the visitors’ goal.
Steve Sidwell, clearly given licence to wander forward, missed the target from long range on three occasions and the home side’s only fluid move of the first period – featuring clever interplay between Danny Murphy and Damien Duff – saw Dempsey correctly flagged for his offside before he shot past Foster. West Brom were threatening on the break and Peter Odemwingie spurned two glorious chances to give them the lead before creating an opening for Marc-Antoine Fortune, only for David Stockdale to make a smart save. It took a rare rush of blood from Foster to present Fulham with a clear sight of goal, but Bryan Ruiz’s header floated wide.
Hodgson’s side, who have amassed an impressive eighteen of their 26 points away from home, could have been in front early in the second half. First, Simon Cox – deployed largely on the right wing – had a curling effort held by Stockdale and then the England goalkeeper did splendidly to smother a low shot from Fortune.
Fulham were playing in fits and starts. Ruiz, who was largely anonymous for the first hour, suddenly surged away from two tacklers and into the box but shot straight at Foster as space opened up. From the other flank, the ever-eager Duff nearly capitalised on a mistake from former Fulham left back Nicky Shorey to open the scoring but steered his shot agonisingly across the face of goal from an acute angle.
Fulham did finally break the deadlock in the 69th minute and it owed much to the class of Ruiz. The Costa Rican found himself surrounded by Baggies defenders just inside the box but still managed to thread a ball through to Dempsey and the American fired clinically in the bottom corner from close range.
That looked as though it would be enough to clinch the win that would have lifted Jol’s side into the top half but Hodgson threw on Tchoyi and the Cameroonian international had pinched an equaliser within five minutes. A clever flick from James Morrison released the substitute who had the strength to shrug off Brede Hangeland and lash an outstanding finish into the far corner. Dempsey did have a chance to secure all three points in added time, but headed wastefully header when picked out by a Danny Murphy corner at the far post.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Stockdale; Kelly, J.A. Riise, Hangeland, Senderos; Murphy, Sidwell; Duff, Davies, Ruiz; Dempsey. Subs (not used): Etheridge, Baird, Hughes, Gecov, Frei, Trotta.
GOAL: Dempsey (69).
WEST BROMWICH ALBION (4-4-2): Foster; Tamas, Shorey, Olsson, McAuley; Mulumbu, Dorrans, Morrison (S. Reid 88), Cox (Tchoyi 77); Odemwingie, Fortune. Subs (not used): Fulop, Dawson, Allan, Mantom, Thorne.
GOAL: Tchoyi (82).
REFEREE: Mark Halsey (Welwyn Garden City)