I just managed to get home in time for this one on ITV4, and spent the first half an hour wishing I’d stayed at work. Donetsk came out with their tails up and threatened from the start. Schwartzer had to make quite a few saves, and the Ukrainian team seemed to have solid control of the game. The home side only needed to win 1-0 to win on the ‘away goals’ rule, and it looked like they could get that and more.
However, with what was Fulham’s first proper chance of the match, a Duff free kick was met by Brede Hangeland’s head and the ball ended up in the net. With that, the tie was 3-1 in Fulham’s favour, and the away goal had been cancelled out. Shaktar had to score three in order to win outright, and two to force extra time. They could feel aggrieved perhaps at the seemingly innocuous challenge that led to the free kick in the first place, but Fulham had some pretty bad luck with officials in the games against Roma last year.
The goal seemed to wake the Whites up a bit, and the play then became more even, as the midfield were able to close down the game a little more. for the remainder of the half.
For the second half, the pattern of play was for Fulham to defend as deeply as possible, while Shaktar tried their same methods over and over to try to score. While the visitors were well organised in defence, and had the odd break, they could not stop Donetsk from pulling a goal back halfway through the second period. Zamora was replaced by Elm for the last 20 minutes, and he did seem to lift the Fulham play a little, as he and Gera were able to jink forward every now and then. The midfield and defensive lines held well too, and were soaking much of the pressure up.
With five minutes to go, and after a period fraught with danger, the pressure suddenly dropped, and Fulham finally got to put in some possession play as they tried to hold the aggregate lead. When 90 minutes had gone, and as four minutes of time to play were indicated, Gera got hold of a misplaced pass and came within inches of slotting in a winner. Ilsinho was lucky to get away with only a yellow card for a foul on Duff that was a kind of body check combined with a cuff to the head. Then Murphy was sent off for a pointless foul in the corner on a different Donetsk player, meaning his influential leadership would be missing for the next game.
With only a minute or so left, Shaktar didn’t have time to make the extra man pay, and so the tie ended 3-2 on aggregate. Fulham had knocked out the holders, a team with prodigious skill and pace, and held them off in a ground where they’d beaten the likes of Arsenal in previous years.
I don’t yet know who the next opponents for Fulham will be. Chances are it’ll be Juventus, who are a goal up with home advantage against Ajax. Either way, it will be a fantastic opportunity for the Whites to show their mettle against one of the most famous clubs in Europe.