26/12/2012: Fulham 1-1 Saints

Saints remain in 17th place following a 1-1 draw with Fulham. The result was probably a fair reflection of the game. The momentum was with the visitors for most of the second half, but it took until the 85th minute until they found a way through.

Nigel Adkins made one change from the Sunderland defeat, with Steven Davis coming in for Emmanuel Mayuka. Initially many believed Davis would be deployed in the middle of the pitch alongside Jack Cork and Morgan Schneiderlin, but he ended up playing a lot more advanced, with Gaston Ramirez and Jason Puncheon supporting from out wide.

Saints made an extremely poor start to the game and were under the cosh from the word go. Steve Sidwell blasted just past the post on three minutes, having been given far too much time and room to set himself. The Cottagers took the lead on 8 minutes when Dimitar Berbotov converted Sascha Riether's cross. No doubt Kelvin Davis will take most of the blame, despite the fact it was a series of errors that led to the goal. Nobody tracked back to help Luke Shaw, who was beaten by his man far too easily. Jose Fonte and Maya Yoshida were also slow to react as the ball slipped out of Davis' grasp.

The wind and the rain certainly played its part in Saints' inability to string more than a few passes together early on. It took a while to for the visitors to adapt to the adverse weather conditions. Mistakes were prevalent, but Saints did show signs of improvement on the 20 minute mark, when Jack Cork fired a shot straight at Mark Schwarzer, following good work from Ramirez out wide. Adkins' men soon reverted to type however, struggling to get any real rhythm to their play. Fortunately Fulham weren't ruthless enough to capitalise and go further ahead. Things did get better towards the end of the first half, with Ramirez and Puncheon switching flanks. Saints played some decent stuff in and around the box, but struggled to get too many shots away. Fulham did well to crowd out the penalty area, denying their opponents space.

Saints stepped it up during the 2nd half, and had Fulham on the ropes for extended periods. The visitors utilised the flanks with greater regularity, stretching the play in an attempt to find space. It wasn't all one way traffic however. Fulham had chances to add to their lead. Bryan Ruiz was brought on for the Cottagers at half-time, but was expertly nullified by Fonte and Yoshida. Puncheon came close with a powerful low effort, but Saints still weren't quite ruthless enough where it mattered. Adkins switched to a 4-4-1-1 mid-way through the second-half, with Ramirez moving to the centre just behind Lambert. Ramirez looked a lot more comfortable in this role, with Saints cranking up the pressure as the minutes ticked away. The ball was being moved about quicker, and things only got better when Jay Rodriguez replaced Davis on the left side of midfield. Then the away side were given an opportunity to get back into the game when former Saint Chris Baird handled in the box. Schwarzer got a hand on Lambert's spot-kick, but it was far too powerful to keep out. Saints were level with 85 minutes on the clock. Both sides had chances to win it in the closing stages. Schwarzer spilled Ramirez's long range strike, and the ball nearly trickled over the line. Sidwell and Hangeland came close for Fulham before the referee blew for full-time.

Plenty of positives and negatives to take from that game. Saints played some good stuff at times, but still lack that killer instinct going forward. We didn't create enough chances. The game was always within our reach, but if we play like that against Stoke or Arsenal, we're more likely to lose. At times it was difficult to see where we were going to break Fulham down. Adam Lallana should solve some of those problems when he comes back, but in the meantime, changes need to be made if we want score goals. Steven Davis' inclusion would have been understandable had he been used to flood the midfield, but he was played just behind Lambert. Ramirez should have started in that role, where he is far more effective than he is out wide. Rodriguez or Guly could have been used on the left to add a bit more creativity. It was slightly surprising that those two players weren't introduced from the bench earlier than they were. Defensively we were fairly good, apart from those early mistakes. Ruiz and Berbatov were kept very quiet in the second half. Our goal difference is now better than the three teams below us and Aston Villa, who are directly above us. That would have been unthinkable earlier in the season, when we were conceding for fun. It could prove vital come May. We look much more organised these days, which really is a credit to Adkins and his staff, considering where we were at a few months ago. It's difficult to be too upset with a point away from home. There's plenty for Adkins to consider for the fixtures ahead. It will be interesting to see what decisions he makes in the near future.

Attendance: 25,700

Match Ratings

Davis: 6. Partially at fault for the goal, but otherwise had a fairly quiet afternoon

Clyne: 6. Nowhere near his best in the first half, but did get better. Made some good runs down the right

Fonte: 6. Slow to react for the first goal, but kept Fulham's front line fairly quiet after that

Yoshida: 6. Passing was poor in the first half, but defensively sound

Shaw: 6. Worst game in a while. Beaten by his man on a few occasions and didn't always make the correct decisions

Cork: 7. Shielded the ball well, finding space for his teammates.

Schneiderlin: 7. Passing was surprisingly off early on, but ended the game strongly, with some big interceptions

Puncheon: 7. Tested the Fulham defence on numerous occasions, particularly in the second half. Only negative was he sometimes seemed reluctant to pull the trigger in-and-around the box.

Davis: 6. Steady on the ball, but failed to open up the Fulham back-line too often

Ramirez: 7. Held the ball up well. Looked the most likely to make something happen for Saints

Lambert: 6. Largely poor before the goal. Finishing and first touch way below the level you would expect

Substitutes:

Rodriguez: Made a big impact after coming on

Guly: Didn't have enough time to contribute