A second half revival from Real Betis saw Fulham held to a 1-1 draw in their latest pre-season friendly at Craven Cottage this evening. Steve Sidwell opened the scoring with a downward header from Bryan Ruiz’s inswinging corner but the hosts spurned several chances to increase their lead before Nosa Igiebor equalised from close range as the Spaniards dominated the second period. Martin Jol’s side pressed for a winner in the closing stages, but Hugo Rodallega’s sliding finish was ruled out for offside.
Jol included three of his summer signings in a strong starting line-up as Fulham looked to bounce back from their narrow defeat by Werder Bremen in their previous pre-season outing. Maarten Stekelenburg began between the sticks in front of centre back Fernando Amorebieta, whilst former Dnipro man Derek Boateng anchored the midfield. Byran Ruiz began the evening on the right of a four-man midfield as Dimitar Berbatov partnered Rodallega up front.
The Whites started strongly with Rodallega racing onto a through pass from Ashkan Dejagah, but a defender arrived to whisk the ball away from the onrushing Ruiz as the Costa Rican midfielder glimpsed a sight of goal. Rodallega drilled a free-kick optimistically towards goal from long-range, but a deflection from the Betis wall took the ball wide. From the ensuring corner, Ruiz’s pinpoint delivery found Sidwell unattended on the edge of the six-yard box and the midfielder headed clinically into the far corner.
Rodallega was finding plenty of space on the fringe of the Betis box and the Colombian striker instinctively drove at goal when a Riether cross was headed into his path, but a desperate block diverted his effort wide. The visitors gradually began to get a foothold in the contest but their only genuine opening came on the stroke of half time when Verdu, who had been enjoying a physical tussle with Kieran Richardson, found himself free at a corner but could only head wide.
The visitors were far more adventurous in the second period and began to find their way through Fulham’s midfield. They were level just seven minutes after the break after a clever move saw Igiebor power his way into the penalty area and, after an intricate one-two with former Real Madrid winger Juanfran, hold off Amorebieta and beat Stekenlenburg at his near post. The Dutch goalkeeper was soon called upon again to field a Verdu shot as the La Liga side threatened to take the lead.
In a lively conclusion to the contest, both sides might have grabbed a winner. Sascha Riether thought he had created Fulham’s second when his low cross was converted at the far post by Rodallega after Berbatov had narrowly failed to connect himself, but the assistant referee’s flag cut short the celebrations. Substitute Damien Duff should have put the Whites in front but he failed to make sufficient contact with Berbatov’s lay-off and Stephan Anderson smothered the tame shot. Another piece of skill from Berbatov almost fashioned a chance for Mesca, but the youngster failed to anticipate the Bulgarian’s creativity and the chance swiftly evaporated. Betis had chances of their own with substitute Braian Rodriguez shooting wastefully over and then heading a dangerous cross inches wide before Anderson produced a smart save from a rasping Giorgis Karagounis drive to preserve parity.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Stekelenburg; Riether (Hughes 84), Richardson, Hangeland, Amorebieta; Boateng (Karagounis 70), Sidwell, Ruiz (Kasami 80), Dejagah (Duff 64); Berbatov, Rodallega (Mesca 72). Subs (not used): Stockdale, Etheridge, Riise, Senderos, David.
GOAL: Sidwell (13).
REAL BETIS (4-3-3): Anderson; Chica, Nacho, Paulao, Perquis; Matilla, Nosa, Verdu (Chuli 77); Juanfran, Cedric (Nono 85), Molina (Rodriguez 81). Subs (not used): Vadillo, Vilà, Sara, Sevilla, Rodríguez, Steinhöfer, Jordi, Garcia, Martinez, Amaya.
REFEREE: Lee Probert (South Gloucestershire).