Portsmouth 1 Fulham 1
Clint Dempsey’s dramatic 87th-minute equaliser stopped battling Portsmouth waving goodbye to manager Harry Redknapp with a well-earned win at Fratton Park.
Peter Crouch, Redknapp’s £11million signing from Liverpool, scored what looked certain to be the winner just after the hour when he coolly converted Jermain Defoe’s pass after brilliant work by Lassana Diarra.
Pompey had enough chances to win comfortably and put on a treat for the fans until former Spurs defender Younes Kaboul spoiled an otherwise immaculate display by letting in American Dempsey to drill in fellow substitute Erik Nevland’s pass.
Although Glen Johnson, Sol Campbell and Sean Davis were all missing, Pompey were the driving force in an absorbing, fast-moving game and had a distinct edge on chances.
Kaboul had a header hacked off the line from an early corner from Diarra and Richard Hughes, Crouch and Armand Traore kept Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer busy.
Schwarzer was Fulham’s saviour again just after the half-hour mark when Pompey left-back Nadir Belhadj came dancing through in a superb solo run to hit a shot which the goalkeeper clung onto as Defoe closed in.
It would have been a spectacular solo effort by the on-loan Algerian, who left at least four defenders gasping in his wake.
Jimmy Bullard, who frightened Pompey with a free-kick which flew inches wide from 30 yards in the opening minute, was desperately close again with another effort from distance in the 34th minute.
It would have been tough on Pompey if Fulham had taken the lead in the 40th minute but an eagle-eyed linesman spotted Zoltan Gera was offside when he headed a high through-ball across the area for Andrew Johnson to nod in.
But Danny Murphy was unlucky when he caught a firm drive full on the volley and saw it swerve away from the top corner right at the last second.
Fulham boss Roy Hodgson, with fond memories of Fratton Park where Fulham scored a surprise win to avoid relegation last May, had professed himself happy with his team’s recent performances despite four defeats and a draw in the last five.
And he may have been justified in believing they deserved to be level at the break this time.
But the Defoe-Crouch partnership and Diarra’s non-stop industry looked the major differences between the two sides in the second half and, eventually, was bound to pay dividends.
Defoe, maybe slightly subdued in the first period when some may have wondered if he was missing Redknapp’s influence, left no doubts about his determination.
Five minutes after the break his scintillating run down the right finished with a searing shot just wide of the far post. Then he demanded yet another fine save from Schwarzer with a cracking effort from a more central position six minutes later.
With Diarra winning all the major battles in midfield, Pompey always looked likely to break through.
Just after the hour Diarra, back from three games out through suspension and a bad knee, just would not give up when foiled in a solo burst through the centre.
He won back possession, fed Defoe and he laid off the perfect pass for Crouch to drill home and join his partner on six goals for the season.
It seemed a good way to come back from a 3-0 beating in Braga in the UEFA Cup but victory was denied through Dempsey’s late strike and referee Mark Halsey confounded Pompey by denying a late shout for a penalty on substitute Niko Kranjcar in stoppage time.