At least Fulham have become consistent. This was their fourth straight draw and their second entirely forgettable goalless affair at Craven Cottage in 10 days. It made for the kind of occasion Scott Parker, their self-isolating manager, might not regret staying in for although matches like this will need to produce more if they are to stay up. They caught a weakened Southampton on an off-day here but did not do enough to win and thanked their keeper, Alphonse Areola, for the game’s outstanding save.
If Parker’s absence was disconcerting it did not show to any special degree in the opening stages. Fulham have not always raced out of the blocks this season but emerged on the front foot and looked easy on the eye, even if their opponents’ concerns were relatively mild once the ball went near the box. Antonee Robinson, an eager outlet on the left, crossed just over the head of an onrushing Bobby Decordova-Reid and caused fleeting bother with another burst to the byline. Ademola Lookman appeared to have worked an opening but saw a deflected shot held by Alex McCarthy, while Decordova-Reid drew admiring murmurs when pulling a booming Alphonse Areola clearance out of the sky.
Those were, in truth, moments of modest interest and it took 25 minutes for a serious chance to materialise. It came from a right-sided surge from Ruben Loftus-Cheek and a perfectly weighted ball across the penalty area towards Lookman, who checked back coolly before teeing up André-Frank Zambo Anguissa. The Cameroon midfielder, so impressive in other aspects, completely airkicked from 12 yards and a disjointed start from Southampton went unpunished.
Saints’ clunkiness was excusable to a degree. Danny Ings, Oriol Romeu and Jannik Verstergaard were all absent from the spine of their team, meaning first top-flight starts of the season for Shane Long and Ibrahima Diallo.
In defence there was a place for Jack Stephens, absent since early November, and there was little sign of their usual finely oiled selves before half-time. They did come closest of all, though, thanks to one of the constants amid that reshuffle. James Ward-Prowse found himself in possession 25 yards out shortly before the half-hour and, while Darren England appeared of a mind to play advantage following a foul by Harrison Reed, he clearly had eyes only for the dead ball. He got his wish and the shot he produced was, even by his standards, outstanding but Areola stole his thunder quite thrillingly.
It took a remarkable leap for the keeper to get a touch on the ball, which could not have been bound more precisely for his top right corner, and help it on to the angle of post and bar. Che Adams appeared poised to convert the rebound but misjudged the bounce back off the frame.
For all Fulham’s smart manoeuvrings the lack of an attacking focal point was obvious. Ivan Cavaleiro, back in for Aleksandar Mitrovic here, did meet a delicious Robinson cross 10 minutes after half-time but headed over when unmarked. His more aerially-prolific teammate would probably have scored.
Otherwise the second half chugged along in the manner of the first: high on endeavour but low on impact. One run by Theo Walcott, ripping through the middle before botching his final pass, summed matters up pithily. Diallo, offered the chance of a 20-yard blast by Long, then channelled Anguissa by missing altogether as if to underscore the point little had changed.
Further deja vu came in the form of Areola’s fingertips, which snicked Adams’s drive over the top. Fulham came close through a Lookman shot that wrong-footed McCarthy and deflected wide, although play was then halted for a VAR check on a possible handball by Ola Aina at the other end. No penalty was awarded and, while Walcott was frustrated to see a potential winner ruled out for offside during a final 20 minutes of otherwise scant consequence, a share of the points seemed fair.