Just when Southampton thought that they had resolved their defensive frailities and were heading for a first clean sheet in the Premier League, and a welcome three points with it, they again cracked at the back.
Leading Fulham 1-0 with 20 minutes left, they imploded – Jos Hooiveld scoring an own goal and Kieran Richardson powering the visitors in front.
Good job, then, that Southampton are not that bad at the other end, with José Fonte nodding in a 90th-minute equaliser, his second goal of the game, to rescue a point.
Addressing defensive weaknesses was the most pressing pre-match concern for Nigel Adkins, the Southampton manager. His team had conceded an average of three goals per match since their return to the top flight, including a 6-1 thumping away to Arsenal in their opening six fixtures, and needed to show some cohesion at the back.
Cohesion up front was more to the fore early on and Southampton eased ahead with only four minutes gone. Adam Lallana delivered a precise near-post corner and Fonte, the centre-back, guided in a looping header over Mark Schwarzer and his helpless defenders.
It was Schwarzer’s 40th birthday on Saturday but, even in his youth, he would have struggled to save the delicate effort, which was Fonte’s first Premier League goal.
Buoyed by the lead, Southampton dominated a scrappy first half, with Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez constant threats in attack. Lambert sidefooted wide, after good work by Rodriguez on the left flank, and Sascha Riether had to clear off the line from an attempt by Jason Puncheon.
When Puncheon did find the net soon afterewards, it was disallowed for a foul by Lambert in the build-up. Schwarzer then had to save well from Lambert while Fulham’s only effort of any note was an Aaron Hughes header from a Bryan Ruiz corner, which Paulo Gazzaniga collected comfortably.
At least Fulham made more of a fight of it after the interval. It was time for Gazzaniga to earn his corn, which he did impressively. First, he kept out a stinging drive from the previously anonymous Hugo Rodallega; then, after Steve Sidwell had prodded a Ruiz free kick on to the base of a post, Gazzaniga did even better to block another piledriver from Rodallega.
It was a precursor of better things to come from Fulham and, in the 69th minute, they equalised. A sustained spell of pressure finally paid off, albeit somewhat fortuitously, when John Arne Riise unloaded one of his left-foot specials from the wing.
With it clearly going wide of the target, Hooiveld, an early substitute, stuck out a foot and diverted it past a startled Gazzaniga. Richardson gave Fulham a 2-1 lead with a fine strike but Fonte struck again with a late header.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © Audrey Pilato