The last home game of the Europa Cup group stage for Fulham, and one that had to be treated as a knockout cup game. CSKA needed a win to have a chance of getting into the next round, and a draw would mean that even if Fulham could beat Basel in the last game, other results would decide who finished in the top two of Group E.
Murphy and Zamora came back from injuries, thankfully, to bolster a side missing key members due to suspensions (less said about some of those red cards the better).
The visitors started brightly, and Fulham were under a little pressure for the first few minutes. Then a break lead Zoltan Gera into the box, for him to be taken down by a defender. The penalty was a clear decision, but Murphy hit the ball over the bar. Despite this, the Whites were spurred on, and a good spell of play led to several chances, culminating in a Gera headed goal in the 14th minute.
CSKA tried to come back straight away, but even with a few hairy moments, the home side held on and settled back into the game. The rest of the first period saw Fulham on top for the most part, but unable to convert attacking possession into solid chances.
For the second half, Aaron Hughes came on for Hangeland, and the CSKA manager appeared for the first time (he’d been kept in Bulgaria by the government over some ‘personal legal issue’, but got his passport in time to get a flight to London this afternoon, and then when he arrived at the Cottage had to talk his way in, but he did make it).
For the beginning of the second half, neither team appeared to have the upper hand, but as the clock ticked away, Sofia began to press as hard as they could, and the last ten minutes were looking very fraught. Duff had to save off the line from their best chance, but there were several close shots that just went wide or over.
Fulham were grateful for the final whistle when it came, and certainly have to rue plenty of good opportunities wasted. In every Group game so far, Fulham have scored one and only one goal, which is not too great, but they have kept clean sheets in two games.
In terms of players, Gera had a great game. Murphy looked solid in midfield in his first game for 7 weeks. I thought Pantsil and Davies combined very well going forward up the right wing. Smalling played his socks off at the back, and he could well get more play in the Premiership this season.
Roma came back from behind to beat Basel 2-1, which means that the Italian side have qualified with a game to spare. It also means that the game in Switzerland in two weeks’ time is all or nothing for Fulham.