A late blunder from Maarten Stekelenburg cost Felix Magath the perfect start as Fulham were held to a 1-1 draw by West Brom this afternoon.
The Londoners looked set to move off the bottom of the Premier League table after the recalled Ashkan Dejagah gave them a first half lead at the Hawthorns. But a dreadful error from Dutch goalkeeper Stekelenburg, who spilled a simple shot from Matej Vydra in this own net with only four minutes to play, meant the Cottagers only came away with a point. The awful mistake marred what had been a previously excellent afternoon for the experienced Holland international, who had made several good stops to preserve Fulham’s slender lead.
West Brom remain in trouble themselves – this was their sixth match without a league win – but you sensed the point proved more painful for Magath. The German, surprisingly installed last week when Fulham ditched Rene Meulensteen after just two months in charge, had an immediate impact on his strugglers as the Whites delivered a first half full of energy and purpose. Magath’s manic training sessions appeared to have boosted his side’s intensity and they were in control throughout the first 45 minutes.
Fulham deserved the lead handed to them by Dejagah but it could have been far greater. Inside the first two minutes, Johnny Heitinga headed over from a Lewis Holtby free-kick and the on-loan Tottenham midfielder, who has previously spoken of his scepticism about Magath’s methods, fired fractionally wide five minutes later. Steve Sidwell should have opened the scoring midway through the first half but he blazed badly over after being teed up by the lively Dejagah.
The Baggies were operating on the counter attack and barely had a sight of goal, although Thievy Bifouma should have done better than shooting straight at Stekelenburg when he was played in by Morgan Amalfitano. Fulham made the most of that let off, taking the lead five minutes later. Former Albion midfielder Kieran Richardson turned superbly to swing in a fine cross and Dejagah, after taking a touch to settle himself, found the far corner with a terrific low drive.
Ben Foster had no chance with the goal but kept the hosts in the contest when he made a splendid save to deny Hugo Rodallega’s 20 yard drive just before the interval. Pepe Mel rang the changes at half time – introducing former Fulham midfielder Zoltan Gera as he switched systems – and his side were far more competitive as a result. Stekelenburg made excellent reaction saves to deny Chris Brunt and James Morrison before Saido Berahino and Gareth Macauley went close.
It looked as Fulham might hold on, with Kostas Mitroglou’s long-awaited debut somewhat academic with the amount of defending Magath’s men were now having to do. But Stekelenburg’s mishandling of Vydra’s shot might the Whites could only leave the Midlands with a point – and they were grateful for that after the goalkeeper partially redeemed himself by brilliantly denying Brunt in stoppage time.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION (4-4-2): Foster; Jones (Anichebe 44), Ridgewell, Macauley, Olsson; Mulumbu, Morrison, Amalfitano, Brunt; Bifouma (Gera 45), Berahino (Vydra 75). Subs (not used): Myhill, Dawson, Dorrans, Sinclair.
BOOKED: Brunt, Macauley, Olsson.
GOAL: Vydra (86).
FULHAM (4-4-1-1): Stekelenburg; Riether, Amorebieta (Riise 52), Heitinga, Hangeland; Parker, Sidwell, Dejagah, Richardson (Burn 70); Holtby; Rodallega (Mitroglou 60). Subs (not used): Stockdale, Kvist, Kasami, Tankovic.
BOOKED: Heitinga, Riether, Parker.
GOAL: Dejagah (28).
REFEREE: Mike Dean (Wirral).