Fulham 1 – 0 CSKA Sofia

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.

AS Roma 2 – 1 Fulham

This was a disappointing result for the Whites, especially having taken the lead and held it for most of the game. Nevland saw red shortly into the second half, and soon John Arne Riise was able to cancel out Kamara’s opening goal.

Shortly afterwards, Roma took the lead, and right at the end Konchesky was sent off to sum up how badly the game had gone.

Fulham were the stronger team at first and did dominate the first half, and it’s clear that the sending off of Nevland changed the whole game. The actual offence didn’t look that bad to me, perhaps worth a booking.

So now, Fulham would have to win against CSKA Sofia and FC Basel and still hope that other results go their way if they are to reach the next round.

Still, it’s shown that Fulham can be competitive in Europe – and can beat a team of Roma’s stature with a full team on the pitch – while still having a decent Premiership campaign. At the end of last season, pundits were suggesting that 7th place was a bit of a poisoned chalice, that we wouldn’t have the depth of squad. I must admit I was a bit worried over summer as so few signings were made until quite late, but Hodgson has managed to build up the roster to the point we can put out a pretty good second team, and at least win games without Murphy and Johnson.

Fulham 1 – 1 Roma

Tonight saw biggest game for Fulham since the 2003 UEFA Cup Third round tie with Hertha Berlin, and arguably more important than that. Playing host to AS Roma and starting at the top of Group E, the Whites had a chance to take a strong points lead.

Johnson and Murphy were injured, and so the team was not quite the one that Hodgson would perhaps have wanted to play, but the atmosphere looked great and the Cottage was full.

The first few minutes saw Fulham take the game straight to the Italians. A Gjorn Helge Riise cross was met by a defender’s boot and went narrowly wide. A series of corner kicks included one which was tapped back to Greening for a shot, parried by the Roma keeper.

Roma did threaten themselves, but Fulham were able to put together several attacks and win corners. The Riise brothers had a tussle over the ball, with the younger winning the ball letting Kelly try a slow curving shot to the car corner. While Bjorn Helge seems to be fairly popular, the older John Arne is not well liked at Fulham, following the time when he was lined up to sign for the club and late on in the process decided to go to Liverpool instead.

Following a close call at the other end from De Rossi, Fulham pushed forward again and got another corner. Hangeland took a great header above the keeper’s head to put Fulham one up after 23 minutes.

John Arne Riise did have a good game for Roma, and had a good chance to equalise after about 30 minutes with a half-volley from a corner. Schwarzer had to stretch to make the save. Play became a bit ragged as the half drew on, but Fulham still appeared to be on top. They could not create many more good chances though, and Zamora kept falling foul of the offside trap and getting bogged down with his back to goal.

For the second half, Konchesky was replaced with Pantsil, presumably to rest him before the weekend game. Roma came out with a bit more purpose, and did put a fair amount of pressure on Fulham for the first ten minutes. However, the home side did defend with some confidence, and did look dangerous on the break.

After an hour, Nevland came on for Zamora. Bobby Z had actually been making quite a bit of the play, but Nevland almost scored in the Hull game with his first touch as a sub, so again it looked like a means to protect a top player. Again, the change seemed to let Roma into the game more, and there were a couple of chances to score – Vucinic took a blistering shot from some way out that needed a quality save.

Duff came on for BH Riise with 15 minutes to go, and then followed a bizarre sequence of events. JA Riise got into the box and was brought down by Kelly, and fell at the feet of Hangeland. The referee awarded a penalty (correctly), but then showed a red card to Hangeland. There was confusion as the Fulham players disputed with the referee and his assistant (one of the experimental ones on the byline) as to who the card should go to and which official made the mistake. Eventually, Kelly was shown the red and Hangeland’s was rescinded. I’m not sure it warranted a red card,

Schwarzer then saved the penalty. It seemed that fate was on our side.

The rest of the game was very nervous for Fulham, with Roma able to use the extra man to press, and a few silly mistakes creeping in. As the last few seconds of stoppage time were being counted down, Roma were finally able to capitalise, scoring from a corner as Pantsil got in front of Schwarzer.

I can’t say I wasn’t stunned by the equaliser, although back in August I’d have been happy with that  result (on the assumption that Roma would be the team making the running in the group. As it is, Fulham are in second place, one point behind Basel (who beat Sofia 2-0 away) and one point above Roma. The away tie in Rome is on November 5th, and it’s a game that may decide the outcome of the campaign. CSKA Sofia appear to be the whipping boys, and Basel are likely to be a strong contender.

Back to the Premiership though, with only 65 hours to regroup before Fulham play at Manchester City on Sunday. That will be a tough game, as will the home tie against Liverpool the following week, but hopefully the Whites can continue their unbeaten run.

Fulham 1 – 0 FC Basel

The first half was pretty scrappy, I thought, and Basel seemed to have the upper hand. Unlike the Sofia game, Hodgson brought in a strong squad – and probably would have put out the first team if it were not for injuries. The defence did play well, despite missing Hangeland, but the visitors did have quite a few chances. Fulham did look good on the break as well, but didn’t really capitalise on their chances in front of goal Luckily, the Swiss side did not take their opportunities either.

In the second half, the Whites came out looking a bit stronger, with more purpose. More pressure was put on Basel, and in the end it told with a well taken strike from Murphy after 56 minutes. After that, the game was end-to-end, as Johnson kept trying to run the ball into the area (and had a good claim for a penalty denied). At the other end, Schwarzer was kept busy right up to a good save deep in injury time, and Basel certainly did try to come back.

While the game was close (and Basel could consider themselves unlucky not to get a draw), the result was good for Fulham. After a run of three losses, the team needed a win, and hopefully they can take that into a fairly important game against West Ham on Sunday. Of course, 4 points puts the Whites at the top of Group E. The next two Europa League games are home and then away to Roma, which will be a tough test.

Fulham v FC Basel on TV

Fulham’s first home game in the group stage of the Europa League will be shown live on ITV4 at 8pm on Thursday 1 Oct.

CSKA Sofia 1 – 1 Fulham FC

It was a night for experimentation. Roy Hodgson made nine changes to the team that beat Everton on Sunday to create the line up for tonight. Only Stockdale (who stood in for the first-choice keeper at the weekend) and John Pantsil remained. However, Kamara, Gera, Greening, Nevland and Riise are good players who should be competing to be in the first team. I wonder if Hodgson’s strategy is to field essentially two different teams over the next few months. Certainly that would reduce the effect of tiredness, but it would also mean that he has more to do in terms of training and management.

The other experiment is the two extra “referee’s assistants”, who are behind the bylines. Presumably they are there to check for events near the goalmouth. But there are now six match officials, with the ref, two assistants (who used to be called linesmen) and the “4th official” who looks after the dugouts and holds up the electronic board. That’s over half a football team! I’m not sure more people is a better way to go.

I missed most of the first half, as I had to stay later than I’d hoped at work. Just as well, really, it sounds like it was quite boring, with a few chances and only one shot on target.

The second half started fairly brightly, but CSKA went ahead after about 15 minutes through a goal from Michel Platini (no, not that one, a Brazilian lad called Michel Platini Ferreira Mesquita). Fulham almost immediately equalised as Diomansy Kamara scored after a lucky bounce that took him and the ball past the keeper on the edge of the box. After that the game was pretty open, and there were chances from both teams.

Stockdale, who had a good game against Everton, did well to save a Todorov strike later on in the game. It was a surprise to see him come in in preference to last season’s reserver goalie, Pascal Zuberhuhler (who may have worked under Hodgson at Zurich Grasshoppers in 1999 before moving to FC Basel – the Whites’ next Europa Cup opponents). It seems to have paid off.

A draw away is a good result. With Basel beating Roma 2-0, a win in the next home game would put Fulham in a strong position in the group.

CSKA Sofia v Fulham on TV

The game will be shown on ITV4 at 17:30 on 17th September.

The European Tour

Fulham have been drawn in Group E of the Europa Cup, along with AS Roma, FC Basel and CSKA Sofia.

The possible schedule of games (based on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2009%E2%80%9310_UEFA_Europa_League_group_stage) is:

17 Sep CSKA Sofia v Fulham

1 Oct Fulham v FC Basel

22 Oct Fulham v Roma

5 Nov Roma v Fulham

3 Dec Fulham v CSKA Sofia

16 Dec FC Basel v Fulham

This is quite tough for Fulham. Roma are a good Italian team and are likely to be favourites. Basel have made it through the group stages of European competition before, and are easily capable of getting wins against top opposition. CSKA Sofia are dark horses who have been recently let back into European football after a ban over financial problems, but as the last game away could be in the Bulgarian capital, they could be a major block to Fulham hopes of getting into the knock-out phase.

As for travelling… Basel is easy to get to, but as it may be the first game might be a bit tight to organise. Rome is also fairly cheap and easy, but I’m not sure that the Roma fans have the best reputation in the world when it comes to welcoming their English guests (ie: they can get a bit ‘stabby’). Sofia in December for a Thursday night?

Update on September 1, 2009 at 19:40 – That’s what I get for believing Wikipedia! They originally had the CSKA Sofia and Basel games the other way around, and I thought that was the final position. It seems that games were moved to avoid clashes with other teams in the same city / country.

So now I have the choice between a hastily arranged trip to Bulgaria, or a jaunt out to Switzerland just before Christmas. The second option seems to be better – it could either be the swansong of Fulham’s campaign, or the glorious night that we celebrate them reaching the knockout rounds…

Amkar Perm 1 – 0 Fulham – Fulham win 3-2 on aggregate

Not much to say on this result, especially as (yet again) the game wasn’t televised. It’s not a brilliant one, but the home side didn’t score until the last minute, so it wasn’t perhaps quite as fraught as if they’d put one in early on.

Fulham now go into the draw for the proper bit of the Europa Cup, the group stage. Tomorrow we will find out which exotic parts of Europe the Whites will be visiting over the next four months. A nice easy to get to location would be good, rather than the foothills of the Urals.

In the meantime, there’s the day’s worth of travelling for the team to put in before they can prepare to face Aston Villa.

Fulham 3 – 1 Amkar Perm

You can’t get a good idea of a game from web live commentary, but it seems like Fulham deserved the win.

Zamora set up Andy Johnson for the first goal after 3 minutes, and scored himself in the 74th. Clint Dempsey took one in between, apparently it was ‘drilled’ into the top left corner six minutes into the second half.

Damien Duff got a run out for the last twenty minutes, and I hope he’ll settle in quickly. Yet another new signing, Jonathan Greening, will probably be in contention to play against Chelsea on Sunday now that he’s come across on loan from West Brom.

The first downside to the game is that Perm got a late goal, which being away from home could be valuable. If Fulham lose the away leg by 2-0, then they’d be eliminated. However, a goal from Fulham in Russia should put the tie beyond reach.

The other was a booking for Clint Dempsey. Hopefully we won’t need to worry about losing players to suspension.

As for the other teams from Britain? Everton beat Sigma Olomouc 4-0 to pretty much guarantee a group stage place (and perhaps to exorcise the demons from their 6-1 drubbing at the hands of Arsenal on Saturday). Villa went down 1-0 to Rapid Vienna. Hearts were thrashed 4-0 by Dinamo Zagreb (who Fulham beat 5-1 on aggregate in the 2002-3 UEFA Cup 2nd Round). Ireland’s St Pats lost 3-0 to Steaua Bucharest, which may mean the end of their impressive run in the competition.