Shaktar Donetsk 1 – 1 Fulham (2-3 on aggregate)

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.

COYW!

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Fulham 2-1 Shaktar Donetsk

A good win, but I think there are going to be some worries about whether it is enough to take to Ukraine. Shaktar are a talented side, who play a very good passing game and move about quickly off the ball. They certainly didn’t come to England to defend…

Fulham started excellently, by attacking from the kick off and scoring through a Gera diagonal shot on two minutes. However, they soon settled back, and allowed the visitors to come forward. The main problem for the Whites was keeping possession, and that led to several quick breaks. The equaliser came as no great surprise, really, and could prove costly as an away goal.

Hodgson must have had a few words to say at half time, because the team came out with a much better approach and played a bit wider. Shaktar remained keen all the way through, but by defending further up the field, their threat was confined to the breaks, and it seemed that (Etuhu aside, who had an unusually poor game) Fulham were keeping hold of the ball far more confidently. That led to more periods of pressure, and the Whites certainly looked more likely to score. Zamora’s winner was a well-taken strike, and it felt like Fulham could push for more.

Up for the Cup

The 4-0 win against Notts County was a bit over the top really. The visitors played well and it just happened that Elm, Zamora and Okaka hit their stride at to set up and score as they did. All credit to County, the result flattered Fulham.

But now that the Whites are into the Quarter-Finals, they have finally met top-flight opposition, in the shape of either Bolton or Spurs. Both would present a really tough test, and a bit of a dilemma for Hodgson – should he put out a team to go all out to win and risk a wobble in the League? Or should he hold back a bit and risk a loss of confidence.  Ach, I really couldn’t take the pressure of that kind of job…

But now we have the game I’ve been looking forward to since the last big European game – Shaktar Donestk at home in the Europa Cup.

The Ukrainian side are top notch. They won the UEFA Cup last season, and have some pretty good quality Brazilian players amongst their mainly home-grown squad. They lost only one game in the Group Stage, and topped Group J with 13 points and 14 goals scored. Fulham will need to get a decent result tomorrow because Shaktar are pretty solid at home.

But hopefully we will be behind the lads all the way.