Saturday, 2 July 2011

Fulham 3 v 0 NSI Runavik

Thursday 30th June  2011
Europa League 1st Qualifying Round
Craven Cottage, Fulham
Admission: £5.00
Programme: £3.00
Attendance: 14910
Match Rating: 2

Still in June and remarkably, time for the first game of a new football season! As someone who likes to take in as many different grounds as possible and so tries to not return to the same venue at least in the short term, it is rather strange how often I find myself at Craven Cottage, through a combination of relatively attractive games with cheap ticket prices – indeed, I was only at Craven Cottage a month previously, to watch the Women’s Champions League Final.

Tickets were priced at a bargain £5.00 for a seat behind either goal, or £10.00 along either length, and I purchased online as prices would double on the day of the match, and so I selected a seat in the Hammersmith End. Attending this match would also mean a sneak preview for me of a team from the Faroe Islands, where I shall be visiting and hoping to take some game in in August.

This time, I took the opportunity of admiring the statues of Johnny Haynes, outside the main stand, and then the relatively recently unveiled status of Michael Jackson, which is located between the Hammersmith End and the Riverside Stand, before taking my seat close to the front of the stand and behind the goal.

Of course, it was difficult to gauge any kind of form for Fulham, considering that they had only been back in pre-season for a week – Fulham having to play so early as they only qualified for this season’s Europa League via the Fair Play League – and this being the first game in charge for Martin Jol. Before the game, Jol had hinted at playing a fair sprinkling of youngsters, however in the end, he names what was probably his strongest team available. On paper, they should have been far too strong for the Faroese outfit, although the visitors would certainly benefit from being match fit and sharp, this being the middle of their league season, and are currently in fourth place in the Faroese Premier League, having finished in third place last season to qualify for this competition. They drew their last game 1-1 at home to B71 – a poor result as B71 are cast adrift at the foot of the table, but before that had an exciting looking 6-4 away win at mid-table Vestur.

One would have anticipated that this game would be played at a pedestrian pace with Fulham in the ascendancy, and that is exactly how the game panned out, as Fulham completely dominated the match with a thoroughly professional performance, keeping the ball for long periods (a very sensible approach being at the start of pre-season) but rarely appearing to the have the ambition to drive at goal. To be fair to NSI, they looked fairly comfortable and actually could have taken the lead on 26 minutes when a powerful Justinus Hansen shot bounced narrowly wide. It was Fulham who took the lead on 32 minutes with a well placed low shot by Damien Duff from just inside the area and into the net. A narrow 1-0 lead was all that Fulham took into the half-time break, which must have been considered a wonderful achievement by the Faroese part-timers.

The second half kicked off in the same vein as the first, unsurprisingly, with Fulham completely dominant, but it wasn't until an hour was on the clock when Fulham extended their lead to two, when Simon Davies was hacked down after some nimble footwork, and the penalty was converted by Danny Murphy, sending the keeper the wrong way. Ten minutes later, and Fulham made the tie completely safe, scoring a third well a well-worked, tippy-tappy move ended with Andy Johnson playing a one-two with Bobby Zamora before cooling slotting home from 10 yards. NSI had their goalkeeper Andras Gango as well as an unbelievable miss from a yard out by the young sub Lauri Della Valle to thank for keeping the score down to three at the end of the game with some great saves, but the 3-0 final scoreline means the second leg will be a formality with Fulham virtually assured of progress to a second qualifying round tie against Crusaders, of Northern Ireland.

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