Friday, 22 July 2011

Fulham 4 v 0 Crusaders

Thursday 21st July  2011

Europa League 2nd Qualifying Round
Craven Cottage, Fulham
Admission: £5.00
Programme: £3.00
Attendance: 15,676
Match Rating: 2

Having decided to follow Fulham on their adventure in the Europa League this season – certainly as far as the home games concerned, as well as having an interest in Northern Irish football, I made the return visit to Craven Cottage this evening three weeks after my last visit, a decision made even easier by the repeat of the bargain ticket prices, £5.00 when bought in advance.

In truth, there was little riding on this second leg match, with the tie already seemingly as good as over. In the first leg in Belfast a week previously, Crusaders apparently played ever so well, coming oh so close to causing a major upset. Fulham held a 1-0 lead at half time, Crusaders equalised and then could easily have taken the lead when a shot struck the crossbar midway through the second half. In the end though, Fulham scored two goals in quick succession to take a 3-1 lead back to London, meaning that the part-timers of Crusaders would have to score three times to have any hope of progressing. An unlikely scenario indeed, but playing a team like Fulham in competitive action was probably beyond the wildest dreams of the Crusaders players and officials. Martin Jol again suprisingly named virtually the strongest team at his disposal, which included the competitive debut of John Arne Riise, the former Liverpool and AS Roma and current Norway player, whose signing must be considered quite a coup for Fulham.

During the first half, Crusaders battled well but struggled to keep possession of the ball sufficiently, but they looked fairly comfortable until the 19th minute, when Damien Duff played a ball across the bos, Bobby Zamora dummied, leaving Andy Johnson to side step the defender before slotting home from 10 yards. Crusaders, to their credit, stayed in the game with a battling performance, and had a couple of half chances to get back on level terms on the night, most notable on 35 mnutes when Crusaders' scorer in the first half, Timmy Adamson, flicked a shot over the bar from 10 yards, but 1-0 was how the score stood at half time.

Perhaps unsurprisingly considering Crusaders' part-time status, they appeared to fade in the second half as Fulham upped the ante, and after missing a couple of good chances to increase their lead, on 56 minutes, Duff ran onto a good low throughball by Philippe Senderos and drove into the box before dispatching a low shot into the corner. In almost carbon copy of the first goal, Fulham opened up their lead to three on 65 minutes, when Johnson crossed low from out wide, Duff dummied and Zamora curled his first-time shot into the goal from 10 yards. On 70 minutes, Fulham scored their fourth with a powerful header from Steve Sidwell - who had earlier missed several gilt-edged chances to score - following a corner from Duff. From this point, Fulham took their foot off the gas which was quite a relief as any worse scoreline than 04 would have been very harsh on Crusaders, who gave a good account of themselves, but credit should also be given to Fulham who showed clinical professionalism. This early in pre-season and considering the relatively weak opposition, Fulham could have fallen into the trap of complacency and sloppiness - but they didn't, and so they progress comfortably to the next round and a tie with the Croation side RNK Split.

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