John Pantsil Card was given for a foul
Chris Baird Card shown to player for time wasting
Player was substituted for tactical reasons
Player was substituted for tactical reasons
Off:Bjorn Helge Riise
A resolute defensive performance in the Russian city of Perm was enough to secure Fulham a place in the UEFA Europa League Group Stages, but not before a dramatic climax threatened to snatch it away from under our noses.
Having been treated to a hostile welcome on their arrival in Russia, the Fulham team knew to expect a partisan audience at the Zvezda Stadium for their UEFA Europa League Play-Off second-leg, and they weren’t disappointed as the local fans turned out in force to support their team.
With Andrew Johnson injured from the first-leg, and Danny Murphy, Bobby Zamora and Paul Konchesky nursing knocks back home, Roy Hodgson’s options were already limited, even before Clint Dempsey was also left out at the last minute as a precaution.
As a result, the starting line-up was noticeably different from the regular 11 that played so many games together in qualifying for Europe last term. There were spots in the team for summer signings Stephen Kelly (at left-back), Bjorn Helge Riise (right-midfield) and Damien Duff (free role). Meanwhile, Erik Nevland started alone up front.
Buoyed by their boisterous fans, Amkar started positively, using their possession well to push on to the Whites’ rearguard. However, the defence and midfield were clearly up to the challenge, and turned their opponents away every time.
The first real moment of action came after 11 minutes when a foul was awarded on the edge of the Whites’ box for a questionable infringement. The subsequent free-kick was floated in, but headed out for an Amkar corner. The resulting set piece at first flew over entire box, but when it was redelivered, it caused a moment of panic as Kushev almost got to it, just yards from goal, before the ball was scrapped away.
Moments later there was a corner at the other end, but Dickson Etuhu’s leap wasn’t quite high enough to repeat his goal from the second leg in the previous round.
The story of the first-half was mostly of Amkar throwing everything forward, but coming up against tough resistance from the Fulham midfield and defence. The result was a less than enthralling contest for the most part as both sides cancelled each other out.
Indeed, it was almost half an hour before the first real opportunity of any note, when a quick interchange between Jean Carlos and Kushev in the box led to a shooting chance for the latter. However, Hangeland intervened at the last second to knock the ball out for a corner, which was headed over by Sirakov seconds later.
Still, that moment spurred the crowd on and they, in turn, pushed their team to create another great opening. After another goalmouth scrap, Jean Carlos managed to find space to volley powerfully from close range. Fortunately Schwarzer was equal to his effort, getting down well to deflect the shot away. Within a couple of minutes there was a similar chance for Kushev, but this time it was blocked well by Stephen Kelly.
Then, just before the break, there was another close call for Fulham. Schwarzer couldn’t quite claim a corner from the left and the ball landed right onto Kushev’s head. At first it bounced directly up, giving the striker a second chance, but again his header rose quickly, this time looping over the bar, wasting the last chance of the half.
Amkar started the second period with the same purpose that they ended the first, and Kushev had his first shot within moments of the restart, although his long-range effort never looked like troubling Schwarzer as it sailed over.
But the Bulgarian striker was guilty of spurning two more promising opportunities in the minutes that followed. Firstly, he received a low cross from the right from Peev inside the six-yard-box, but with time to turn, he rushed his shot and it rolled wide with the goal at his mercy.
Immediately following that, he somehow mistimed his header as another teasing cross flew in, this time from the left, missing the ball completely to Fulham’s relief.
The first booking of the match was handed out on 63 minutes, to John Pantsil who was guilty of a deliberate trip down Amkar’s left side. However, Schwarzer was able to punch the resulting set piece to safety.
Just after that, Fulham had their most promising attack of the match to that point. A defensive lapse allowed Damien Duff time and space on the left. But as the winger waited for support, the Amkar backline retreated and Cherenchikov was able to make a crucial interception as Duff tried to play the final pass square to Nevland.
The two almost combined moments later too, but Nevland was adjudged to be offside as he ran on to an incisive through pass. That was the Norwegian’s final touch of the game as he was replaced by Diomansy Kamara on 67 minutes.
Five minutes later there were some tense seconds as a long, low through-ball from deep right by Sirakov managed to find its way through to the Fulham area. Kushev chased onto it, but Schwarzer was just able to get there first and push the ball away. With the keeper out of his goal though, the danger was not averted and John Pantsil had to stand tall to thwart Gaal as he tried to find space for a shot. It was eventually cleared away by Etuhu.
With 15 minutes remaining, Roy Hodgson made another change, bringing on Seol Ki-Hyeon for Bjorn Helge Riise. And the first thing Seol witnessed was Zoltan Gera finding the target with a cheeky low free-kick. However, his effort failed to trouble Narubin, who scooped the ball up with ease.
As the game entered the final 10 minutes, large sections of the crowd lit sparklers, whilst others sparked up flares, as they again raised their volume. However, Dickson Etuhu almost silenced them as he surged forward unchallenged. The Nigerian eventually shot low, catching Narubin off guard, but his effort rolled wide of the left post.
A couple of minutes later Fulham had another opportunity as Gera fed Kamara. The striker jinked inside one defender, but was cynically brought down on the edge of the box by another who was give a booking for his misdemeanour. The resultant free-kick was fired over by Kamara.
In the final minute though, just as some of the home fans headed for the exits, Amkar got the lifeline they had craved all night. A cross from the right was met by a leaping Kushev who powered a header past Schwarzer off the crossbar, sending the crowd into raptures and setting up a dramatic three minutes of added time.
Immediately Amkar threw everyone forward and came within inches of getting the second that would have put them through, but Zhilayev fired over after being played in by Kushev.
As the clock ticked down, despite the willing of thousands of Russian fans, it was Fulham that almost grabbed the final goal. Joe Kamara had been trying to hold the ball in the corner, but instead it broke loose to Duff who spotted Seol on the edge of the penalty area.
He played the ball back to the Korean, who took his time and tried to place his shot, but his passed effort rolled wide.
It was the last meaningful moment of the match though and the final whistle soon blew, confirming Fulham’s place in the Group Stages of the Europa League proper.
Competition: Europa League Qualifying
Date: Thursday 27 August 2009
Referee: Markus Strombergsson
Team line-up is not available.
Line-up: Schwarzer; Pantsil, Hughes, Hangeland, Kelly; Bjorn Helge Riise (Seol Ki-Hyeon 76'), Baird, Gera, Etuhu, Duff; Nevland (Kamara 68')
Unused substitutes: Stockdale, Smalling, Greening, Saunders, Johnson
Manager: Martin Jol