If you think you had a bad day, pity poor Jos Hooiveld. Hooield, trying to make his way in football, told the Southampton website before the game: “you look at my record this season, giving away an own goal and two penalties in three games which doesn’t look good….” Then he added to this dubious start with a pair of deflections, one of which was officially awarded as his very own goal, the other to Kieran Richardson. Poor man.
The game that reminded me of a 2-2 draw in Derby, in which we played a terrible team, went ahead late on via a deflection, then conceded an equaliser almost instantly. Southampton weren’t nearly as bad as Derby, but they were there for the taking, and it’s disappointing that we didn’t take all three points.
The early goal, of course, was crucial. With that Southampton were happy to sit a little, conceding no real space. So Fulham worked the ball around slowly and clumsily, only occasionally getting the width they’d need to make something happen. Southampton ended up playing their third choice right-back and you wouldn’t have known it from the way Fulham attacked. It was a first half to forget.
In the second half we had the intriguing sight of Bryan Ruiz running around almost constantly. He didn’t touch the ball very much in 15 minutes of Fulham possession, which raised questions. Was he trying too hard? Was he just making terrible runs? Were our players looking elsewhere? I remember Match of the Day in years gone by showing how good players make space by not running, waiting, then making decisive movements. Berbatov, of course, is a master of this. But here was Ruiz describing neverending circles on the St Mary’s turf in a bid to be involved, and of course exactly the opposite happened.
Then all of a sudden he did start getting involved and Fulham looked all the better for it. If I, a man in the stands, would have one piece of advice to the experts at Fulham, it would’ve been to tell Ruiz to play higher up the pitch, closer to Rodallega, and to then get him the ball a lot more. As it was Rodallega spent a game chasing nothingness (the occasional lead-footed Hangeland clomp notwithstanding) and the wide men weren’t involved in coherent attacking moves enough (although they did play quite well in isolation). The Southampton defence, made up as it was of new signings and reserves, wasn’t tested nearly enough.
If we weren’t going to do anything around the D the space was always going to come from our full-backs, given the way the game was going, and slowly we saw Riise starting to take more chances on the overlap. Ultimately this didn’t really work for him but it was the right idea. Down the other flank Reither was still too reluctant to take responsibility I felt, not really committing defenders before making his pass, for instance (Ruiz *is* good at this, Dembele was incredible at this) and therefore not really helping Duff as he might’ve, but credit where it’s due, he kept chugging on forward and was rewarded with the assist for Kieran Richardson’s almost winner.
I’ve got ahead of myself. Southampton went ahead early from a looping header from a corner. It was one of those “Oh really?” goals where you have to shake your head a bit, so soft and not the sort of concession a defence like ours makes. Trouble was, it nearly happened again, Saints having another goal chalked off following what must have been a push on Schwarzer, and then nearly scored *again* when one of our men cleared off the line. All of these from corners. It was disconcerting, and seemed to get to our defenders who spent most of the game playing as if it was the first day of pre-season training, or indeed as if they were being asked to pass a rugby ball. No, there was little movement ahead of them, but in such situations a hoof into space is rarely the right pass. Zat Knight would’ve been shaking his head at some of our distribution from the back.
And Southampton could’ve had another on top of all that, Lambert sliced wide when we’d been opened up wide.
So the second half could only get better. After the aforementioned 15 minute spell of good if aimless possession (I say aimless, but at least we had some tempo now), Ruiz hit the post with a free-kick cross, and Rodallega drew a fine save from the Southampton goalkeeper. We were well in the ascendency now and a goal seemed reasonably likely. Sure enough it came, Riise given clear sight, his shot was (as ever) not quite struck correctly and going wide, but our friend Hooiveld stuck out a boot and diverted the ball home.
We were well on top now and good work down the right fed Riether, whose cross was knocked home by an ecstatic Richardson (via Hooiveld), and that appeared to be that. But then as time was running out Jose Fonte headed in his second for a thoroughly deflating equaliser, and that was just about that.
Ultimately away points are nothing to get upset about and in the cold light of day the fact that we did control so much of the match could be considered a good thing, but we weren’t good enough in a lot of areas, and that will concern Martin Jol.