Bobby Zamora continued his sensational run of form to provide warmth to the otherwise freezing travelling Fulham fans as the Whites secured their place in the last 32 of the Europa League with a dramatic if at times nail-biting victory in Switzerland.
With temperatures below zero and snow falling, the team entered the impressive and noisy St. Jakob Park arena knowing that only a win would be good enough to secure progression, but they refused to freeze under the pressure, instead turning in a scorching hot performance that sent the home side out of the competition.
Roy Hodgson made several changes from the side that had drawn at Burnley at the weekend. Danny Murphy and Dickson Etuhu returned in the centre of midfield, as Jonathan Greening was pushed out to the left and Bjorn Helge Riise took up his place on the right. Zoltan Gera slotted in just behind sole striker Bobby Zamora.
At the back Chris Smalling partnered Aaron Hughes in the middle of defence with John Pantsil and Stephen Kelly to their right and left respectively.
Despite the cold weather, the game took no time to warm up in a lively first period, which saw both teams playing purposeful, attacking football.
There was action from inside the first minute when Bjorn Helge Riise crossed from the right. Basel centre-back Cagdas Atan failed to clear, but neither Jonathan Greening nor Bobby Zamora could meet the loose ball.
Shortly afterwards, Schwarzer had his first touch as he got down to stop an effort from Carlitos, although it never really troubled the Aussie.
The first real save of the game had to be made on nine minutes when Danny Murphy forced a good stop from Colomba. From the right, Zamora played the ball inside to Gera who controlled and laid the ball back to Murphy whose left foot strike needed a full stretch save to push the ball out for a corner.
On 12 minutes Basel wasted a good opportunity to take the lead. Marco Streller advanced on goal from the left and his square pass to Alexander Frei caught Stephen Kelly napping. Frei had just Schwarzer to beat, but he tried to round the keeper, giving Schwarzer the opportunity to steal the ball away from the striker’s feet. A let-off for the Whites.
From the outset Fulham knew they needed to score and that moment appeared to come just after the quarter hour. Riise broke down the right and played a perfect lofted ball over the head of Cagdas to Zamora. Bobby controlled the ball well and calmly finished into the back of the net, but as he turned to celebrate, he saw the referee disallowing his goal on the linesman’s signal for a very close offside call.
In an open half, Basel too had their moments, causing panic in the Fulham penalty area on a couple of occasions. Just before the half hour mark a hopeful Benjamin Huggel volley flew over, but in truth it never really looked dangerous.
At the other end, shortly after, Zamora received a yellow card for allegedly being overly physical with Cagdas.
Basel threatened again on 37 minutes as an attack from the left switched to the right, stretching the Whites defence and allowing Samuel Inkoom a free shot. However, the Ghanaian lacked composure and his effort sailed high over the bar.
Fulham were looking most likely to profit from activity down the right flank with Riise’s crosses consistently causing panic in the home defence. One such ball as the half neared an end teased, but just skimmed Zamora’s head.
But the threat came to fruition moments later. From a quickly taken free-kick deep in the Fulham half. Pantsil played a neat ball up the line to Riise who hit an early cross across the box, which fell perfectly for Zamora sliding in at the far post. His close range finish gave Colomba no chance. 1-0.
And it was the same combination again within minutes. This time Riise’s cross was a high chipped one, but again Zamora arrived at the far post, this time with a nodded header that doubled Fulham’s advantage just before the break. 2-0.
The second-half started much the same as the first hand finished – with a Zamora chance. This time it was a free-kick from 25 yards, which the striker hit low. The ball took a couple of deflections which caught Colomba unawares, but the keeper was still able to get down to palm the ball to safety.
Clearly shaken by a half-time grilling, the hosts began to pile a little more pressure on. Although calm and resolute defending saw the Whites deal with their opponents well, restricting them to a couple of ambitious pot-shots at first. With bodies behind the ball, the visitors sought to frustrate the hosts.
Still, substitute Federico Amerares had the best chance of the opening 15 minutes, but his header from a Stocker cross from the left couldn’t find the target. Schwarzer then had to get down low to hold a well placed Huggel drive.
Just after the hour though Basel’s pressure reaped its rewards. Amerares escaped Kelly on the right and entered the box. His cross appeared to hit Chris Smalling in the stomach, but after a moment’s pause, the referee took the indication from his linesman and awarded a penalty. Alex Frei stepped up and placed his spot kick high to Schwarzer’s right. 2-1.
Moments later there was a chance for an equaliser as Amerares again crossed from the right. Stocker got up to head at goal, but his effort went just over.
On 69 minutes a dangerous back-pass gave Zamora a sniff of his hat-trick, but Colomba raced off his line to get to the ball first. Seconds later Fulham made their first change, introducing Clint Dempsey for Greening.
A couple of minutes later, Basel came closer still to levelling the scores. Amerares got his head to another cross from the right, but his effort flashed narrowly wide, much to Fulham’s relief.
However, with 15 minutes remaining, Fulham won themselves some more breathing space.
From the midfield, Murphy played a well weighted ball to Stephen Kelly in an advanced position on the left. Rather than crossing into the packed box, the left-back played a low square pass to Gera on the penalty spot. The Hungarian had time to control the ball before placing a low, right-footed shot to Colomba’s left. 3-1!
Basel weren’t ready to give up yet though and with nine minutes remaining, Frei struck the crossbar with a powerful volley, reminding Roy’s boys that the game was not over yet.
And there was further proof when Schwarzer had to tip over an accurate distance effort from Xerdhan Shaqiri. And from the resulting corner, Streller breathed a new lease of life into his side as he climbed highest in the box to head in a lifeline goal for his side. 3-2.
With the game wide open, Fulham attacked next. And Dempsey found himself with a free header inside the six yard box. But the American’s effort was straight at Colomba.
As the gripping tension of the last few moments grew to palpable levels, even the Basel keeper came forward for set pieces as Basel took one last throw of the dice.
But it wasn’t enough, and the Whites held out for a memorable, dramatic and deserved victory - the final whistle one of the most relieving sounds in recent memory to the 1200+ travelling supporters.