Vydra's strike rescues point
SUPER-SUB Matej Vydra stepped off the bench to rescue a precious point for Albion in their crucial bottom-of-the-table clash with survival-rivals Fulham.
The Hawthorns encounter saw Pepe Mel’s battlers come from behind to secure a 1-1 draw for the fourth successive home game.
Ashkan Dejagah’s 28th-minute strike gave the bottom-placed visitors a half-time lead in Felix Magath’s first game in charge of the Cottagers.
But the Baggies bossed the second half and - but for some important saves from Maarten Stekelenburg and last-ditch defensive blocks from John Heitinga and Brede Hangeland – the Baggies would have equalised earlier.
There was a huge sigh of relief among the home supporters when Vydra’s shot squirmed over the goalline to deservedly extend Albion’s Barclays Premier League unbeaten home record to six games.
Mel made three changes – one enforced – as he brought Billy Jones and Jonas Olsson back in defence, while Youssouf Mulumbu replaced the injured Claudio Yacob (hamstring) in midfield.
Magath made five changes to the Cottagers’ starting line-up.
The Baggies came under early pressure and John Heitinga should have given the visitors the lead in the second minute when he headed Lewis Holtby’s cross inches over the bar.
A lucky break 25 yards out then saw Holtby run onto the ball five minutes later and blaze a shot wide of the left-hand post from the edge of the box.
In between, Chris Brunt and Saido Berahino each delivered dangerous balls across the face of the Fulham goal – but out of reach of any Albion attacker.
Gareth McAuley made a vital headed clearance on 18 to prevent Hugo Rodallega getting a sight of goal from Dejagah’s right-wing cross.
The Baggies felt they had strong claims for a penalty two minutes later as a clumsy challenge from Heitinga saw him barge over Thievy from Jones’ throw-in – but referee Mike Dean waved play on.
Dejagah eased his way past Ridgewell down the right on 22 and delivered a cross from the byline that Steve Sidwell swept a fraction over the bar on the half-volley from eight yards.
Moments later, Berahino pipped Heitinga to the ball in his own half and sprung an attack. Morgan Amalfitano set Thievy on a run down the middle and the on-loan Espanyol forward played a one-two with the France international before seeing his drive from the edge of the area blocked by Stekelenburg.
But on 28 it was the visitors who took the lead. Kieran Richardson pulled the ball back from the left byline and, after Sidwell and Rodallega both missed their kicks in the centre, it ran to Dejagah on the edge of the box and he drilled a low shot past Foster.
Four minutes before the break, Heitinga’s volleyed clearance from inside his own half fell kindly for Rodallega and he spun and fired in a swerving 25-yard strike that Ben Foster did well to dive to his left and tip over.
The Baggies were forced into a change two minutes later as Jones limped off and was replaced by Victor Anichebe. The former Everton man joined Berahino in attack, with Thievy moving to the right wing and Amalfitano dropping to right-back.
In first-half stoppage time, Brunt swung a free-kick into the back post which Olsson fired goalwards at the second attempt – but it was blocked in a crowded six-yard box.
Mel made another switch at half-time as former Fulham man Zoltan Gera - who got a big cheer from the away fans as well as the home sections - came on for Thievy.
Anichebe started the half brightly and five minutes in he spun Heitinga on the edge of the area, only for his former Everton team-mate to recover and block his left-footed strike.
Magath made a change on 52 as John Arne Riise came on for Fernando Amorebieta.
Three minutes later, Brunt pounced on Sidwell’s half-clearance and struck a fierce 20-yard shot that Stekelenburg was fortunate to see go around his left-hand post after getting fingertips to the ball.
Approaching the hour-mark, it was Albion applying the pressure but a quick break presented Holtby with the chance to shoot from 20 yards and he saw Foster hold his shot comfortably.
Fulham new boy Konstantinos Mitroglou entered the fray on 60 as he replaced Rodallega in the Cottagers’ XI.
Brunt fed the ball into Morrison five minutes later and the Scotland international spun and was unfortunate to see Stekelenburg parry his shot after it took a small deflection off Brede Hangeland.
Good work from the hosts saw Anichebe tee up Berahino, who saw his snapshot from just outside the box fly wide of the right-hand post.
Magath made his final change on 70 as Richardson made way for Dan Burn.
But it was still the Baggies doing the attacking and two minutes later McAuley was unlucky to see his header from Brunt’s right-wing corner clip Riise and go wide.
With 15 minutes to go, Mel brought on Vydra for Berahino.
The Czech Republic man almost made an immediate impact as he broke from his own half but saw his shot blocked inside the box.
More good play by the Baggies then saw Anichebe feed Morrison in the penalty area and he watched in despair as his goalbound strike deflected wide off Hangeland.
But four minutes from time, Albion's sustained pressure finally paid off.
Anichebe showed good power down the right and centred for Vydra, whose first-time shot from 12 yards squirmed under Stekelenburg and inches over the goalline to level.
Albion were not content with a point and a well-executed short-corner between Brunt and Anichebe almost saw the hosts snatch a winner in the second minute of stoppage time – but Stekelenburg did well to keep out the former’s fierce near-post drive.
ALBION (4-4-2): Foster; Jones (Anichebe 43), McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell; Amalfitano, Mulumbu, Morrison, Brunt; Berahino (Vydra 75), Thievy (Gera HT). Subs not used: Myhill (gk), Dawson, Dorrans, Sinclair.
FULHAM (4-4-1-1): Stekelenburg; Riether, Hangeland, Heitinga, Amorebieta (Riise 52); Dejagah, Parker, Sidwell, Richardson (Burn 70); Holtby; Rodallega (Mitroglou 60). Subs not used: Stockdale (gk), Kvist, Kasami, Tanković.
GOALS: ALBION – Vydra (86). FULHAM – Dejagah (28).
BOOKINGS: ALBION – Brunt (foul 45+1), McAuley (foul 75), Olsson (foul 90+1). FULHAM – Heitinga (foul 45+2), Riether (unsporting behaviour 72), Parker (foul 86).
REFEREE: M Dean (Wirral).
ALBION STARMAN: Chris Brunt.