Martin Jol travelled to Holland with a heavyweight 21-man squad for Thursday night’s UEFA Europa League match against FC Twente.
With just Clint Dempsey (thigh strain), Chris Baird (personal reasons) and Steve Sidwell (hernia operation) left behind in London, Fulham travelled to Holland in force hoping to strengthen their claim for a place in the final 32 on a pitch Jol knows well, having played for FC Twente from 1979 until 1982.
Jol’s named arguably his strongest possible eleven to start Thursday’s match with Andrew Johnson, Bobby Zamora, Mousa Dembele and Damien Duff offering a potent attacking threat.
Fulham certainly faced a tough task against a side that had only lost one of their previous 11 European home matches. However, Twente had failed to record a single victory in 12 attempts against an English side prior to Thursday’s Europa League fixture.
Earlier in the week Fulham’s big summer signing and former FC Twente star, Bryan Ruiz, named Luuk De Jong and Emir Bajrami as the players to watch on Thursday night and both were named in Co Adriaanse’s starting eleven.
Despite being Cup-tied, Ruiz made the trip to Enschede and was given a quite stunning reception by the home crowd prior to kick-off. After a presentation to the Costa Rican attacker in the centre circle, Ruiz was given a standing ovation as he completed a lap of honour.
Ruiz’ presence certainly added to the air of expectation as the top two in Group K went head to head. With over 1,000 Fulham fans in attendance it was ‘Super Fulham’ that rang out to the beat of the Twente drums as the home side got the match underway.
It was a tight affair during the opening exchanges and it took 12 minutes for Twente to fashion the first chance of the match with Nacer Chadli forcing Schwarzer into a tidy save with a low drive from the left hand side of the area.
Chadli was Twente’s most potent attacking threat during the first-half and again tested Schwarzer after 15 minutes with another left footed drive from inside the area. Moments later the winger set up Fer for a strike on goal from 18 yards but Schwarzer was again well positioned to collect with ease.
Chadli’s efforts aside, Jol’s defence was rarely troubled during the first half an hour of play and after 35 minutes Fulham were offered their first sight of goal when Johnson latched onto a perfectly weighted through ball from Murphy. Johnson sprinted through Twente’s back line but goalkeeper Mihaylov was alert to the danger and smothered the ball at the striker’s feet 12 yards from goal.
As half-time approached neither team looked like breaking the deadlock. Twente’s approach play down the flanks failed to penetrate past Fulham’s full backs - whilst the visitors were clearly looking for their moment to catch the home side on the counter attack and soak up the pressure.
To their credit Fulham’s first-half performance mirrored the Team’s recent positive endeavors away from home against Wigan, Sunderland and Arsenal.
Fulham enjoyed a strong spell of possession at the start of the second-half and almost opened the scoring after 52 minutes.
From a free-kick on the half-way line, Danny Murphy delivered a sublime pass through to Stephen Kelly on the right by-line, Kelly’s cross to the near post found Johnson but the striker’s diving header arrowed just wide of goal.
As the hour mark approached, Twente moved up a gear and almost scored twice in the space of a minute. The highly rated Ola John, introduced for the second-half, certainly gave the home side a more threatening look down the left flank.
The first booking of the game was handed to Andrew Johnson after 63 minutes after the striker fouled the John on the left touchline. Moments later Twente centre back Douglas went close with a 30-yard drive that whistled over Schwarzer’s cross bar.
The opening Fulham were patiently waiting for fell to Johnson after 65 minutes when a defensive clearance rebounded to the striker on the right hand side of the area. Johnson fired a snap-shot right footed effort past goalkeeper Mihaylov but the ball flashed wide of the far post.
One player who looked more than capable of breaking through Twente’s defence was Kerim Frei. The Swiss youth international and Fulham Academy graduate’s direct approach to goal offered hope that further chances would come Fulham’s way in the final 20 minutes.
Fulham produced their best move of the match after 70 minutes from a well worked free-kick taken by Danny Murphy. His set piece found Zamora whose shot fell just wide of goal from 12 yards.
With 10 minutes remaining the home side replaced arguably their best player of the night, Chadli, with Marc Janko. It transpired to be an inspired subsititution for Twente. The heavens opened for the final stages of the match as Jol followed suit with his second substitution of them match, replacing Mousa Dembele with Pajtim Kasami.
Bobby Zamora was replaced by Orlando Sa for the final few minutes of play as Fulham looked to be playing the match out in relative comfort. However, with just two minutes remaining all of Fulham's defensive work was undone at the death when substitute Janko latched onto Rosales' cross from the right to fire into an empty net from close range.
Fulham's night got worse moments after Janko's strike when Andrew Johnson was sent off for his second bookable offence just seconds before the full time whistle. Fortunately Thursday night's defeat did not impact on Fulham's position in Group K. Martin Jol's team remain a point above third placed Wisla Krakow with one Group match remaining.
Fulham’s fate in Europe will be decided at the Cottage on Wednesday 14th December against Odense BK. If Fulham claim all three points against Odense then Wisla Krakow's result against Twente will matter not.
Before Fulham’s final standing in Group K is confirmed, Jol’s team have two Barclays Premier League fixtures to look forward to, commencing with a mouth watering clash with Liverpool FC in SW6 on Monday night before a trip to Swansea a week on Saturday.