A brace of headers from Jose Fonte earned Saints a deserved point against Fulham at St Mary’s.
Saints started and completed the scoring in a hard fought contest which they took control of after just four minutes of play when Fonte glanced home his first of the game from Adam Lallana’s in-swinging corner to put the hosts into a lead which they held until half-time.
In the second 45 Saints appeared to be doing enough to keep Martin Jol’s men at bay until John Arne Riise’s chance shot bounced in past Paulo Gazzaniga via Jos Hooiveld for an unfortunate equaliser.
The match was surprisingly turned on its head in the 88th minute when substitute Kieran Richardson slammed home inside the area, but a further act of drama when Fonte stooped in for his second header in stoppage time secured the first draw of the campaign for both sides.
The draw also maintains Fulham’s winless run in Southampton which still stands at 77 years.
Saints: Gazzaniga, Richardson (Hooiveld 8), Fonte, Yoshida, Fox, Puncheon (Chaplow 62), Schneiderlin, S. Davis, Lallana, Rodriguez, Lambert (Guly 67). Subs (not used): K. Davis, Ward-Prowse, Reeves, Mayuka.
Booked: Hooiveld, Schneiderlin, Yoshida
Fulham: Schwarzer, Riise, Hangeland, Baird, Hughes, Sidwell (Karagounis 69), Riether, Kacanikilic (Richardson 66), Duff, Ruiz, Rodallega. Subs (not used): Stockdale, Kelly, Senderos, Kasami.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Attendance: 28,004 (including 2,499 away)
Nathaniel Clyne and Gaston Ramirez both missed out with a dead leg, so Frazer Richardson and Jason Puncheon were recalled to the side.
Morgan Schneiderlin returned from injury to make it into the starting eleven at the expense of James Ward-Prowse who dropped to the bench.
Fulham got the match underway in their changed strip of black shirts and black shorts, attacking the Chapel Stand for the lunchtime kick-off at St Mary’s.
Saints showed plenty of purpose with their initial forays forward with Schneiderlin trying his luck rather ambitiously from range, before a Danny Fox corner swung in form the left side was headed wide at the far post by Lambert as the hosts applied the early pressure.
An the attacking play paid off with just four minutes on the watch when another corner this time from the boot of Lallana was glanced into the far corner with a looping header from Jose FONTE to give Nigel Adkins’ men a fourth minute lead.
The early joy turned sour for Saints at the back when Frazer Richardson was forced off with a knock as he pulled up when trying to track the run forward from John Arne Riise.
The full back was forced off, with Jos Hooiveld coming on to replace Richardson with Yoshida moving across to the right back spot.
A stop start opening to the game whilst several players received treatment for various knocks, finally settled as the game reached the quarter hour mark, with Saints continuing to stand up to the threat of their opponents on the break.
In fact the hosts could have doubled their advantage on 17 minutes with a well-constructed move down the left side where Fox and Lallana combined to pick out Rodriguez in the area who in turn set up Lambert for a first time strike, which sliced narrowly wide of Mark Schwarzer’s left post.
The hosts were a constant threat down the left flank and from another Lallana corner were unfortunate when Puncheon’s flick towards goal from a Hooiveld header was cleared off the line.
From the following set piece on the other side, Puncheon this time had the ball in the net, but his close range effort was ruled out for an alleged foul on Schwarzer. However, subsequent replays suggested contact was minimal from the Saints man on the Fulham ‘keeper.
The contest opened back out as Fulham went in search of an equaliser, but again it was Saints who created the better of the chances. In the 32nd minute Lallana was desperately close to picking out Steven Davis inside the area from another strong break on the left side, but the final ball was just behind the Northern Irishman who had sprinted into the area.
After bamboozling their opponents with a string of passes, Saints almost capped off another impressive move with a goal on 40 with Puncheon picking out Lambert at the far post, and the striker’s powerful shot was met by an equally fierce block by Schwarzer low to his right.
A couple of corners from the visitors at the end of the half fortunately came to nothing with Aaron Hughes planting a header from the latter at Gazzaniga, whilst a close shave involving a loose ball pounced upon by Rodallega in stoppage time also bore no fruit as Saints kept their lead intact.
Half Time: Saints 1-0 Fulham
With no changes for either side, the second 45 began in a similar vain to the first half with the hosts moving the ball around brightly to counter the expected onslaught from Martin Jol’s side.
But again it was Saints who created the best of the opportunities with Schneiderlin’s cross from the right emphatically volleyed over the bar by Lambert whose first time effort thundered through the air on its way out of play.
A spirited run and shot from Rodriguez which was gathered at the second attempt by Schwarzer was followed by a swift counter from the visitors as Rodallega almost found a way through, but Fonte made a vital block to deny the frontman as he bore down on goal.
Fulham hit back again and struck the post when Hangeland connected to a free-kick from Ruiz, and followed up with a flick into the area from Sidwell which Rodallega headed towards goal only for Gazzaniga to produce a terrific save and keep out the close range effort.
Adkins brought Puncheon off in the 62nd minute with Richard Chaplow his replacement in a bid to shore up the right flank for the last half hour.
The visitors went up a gear with Rodallega firing wide before Sascha Riether volleyed over, but neither we seriously testing Gazzaniga.
There was then a flurry of substitutions with Alez Kacanikilic replacing Kieran Richardson. A minute later Rickie Lambert came off for Guly, then Sidwell made way for Giorgos Karagounis as both sides reshuffled their packs.
The changes preceded an equaliser from Fulham when Riise’s low drilled cross/shot into the area was sliced into his own net by HOOIVELD who was unable to avoid putting through his own net for the second time this season.
Surprisingly, both sides struggled to test each other as the contest developed into a scrappier affair after the leveller.
Former Saints man Chris Baird flashed a free-kick wide from distance and Hangeland had an even more speculative effort comfortably held by Gazzaniga as the game entered the last ten minutes.
The hosts found their feet in the closing stages with Lallana picking out Rodriguez at the far post, but the downward header from the striker bounced high off the surface and over the bar from six yards out.
And as the match ticked towards 90 a potential knockout blow arrived when Riether got to the byline and crossed low into the area where substitute RICHARDSON powered home from close range to turn the game on its head with two minutes remaining.
But there was to be another late twist when the board went up for an additional five minutes. Fox’s deep free-kick from the right was nodded home at the far post by FONTE who celebrated his second goal of the game to set up a grandstand finish.
Despite a frantic end to the contest where Saints rallied in search of a winner, the teams settled for a draw which was no less than Adkins’ men had deserved.
Full Time: Saints 2-2 Fulham