Fulham’s UEFA Europa League group match against Wisla Krakow offered several players the opportunity to impress on the European stage on Thursday evening.
Club captain Danny Murphy was absent through injured forcing Martin Jol’s hand in midfield. Summer signing Marcel Gecov started in central midfield alongside Dickson Etuhu with Duff and Dembele providing width on the flanks.
With Clint Dempsey and Bobby Zamora rested ahead of Sunday’s Barclays Premier League match against Everton, Orlando Sa partnered Andrew Johnson in attack. In defence, Matthew Briggs’ development continued with a starting role at left back.
Wisla Krakow got the match underway on a bitterly cold evening in Poland and with some heavy challenges going in early on, Brede Hangeland picked up a booking inside the first few minutes of play. Unfortunately the defining moment of the first half was a controversial encounter between Mousa Dembele and Wisla midfielder Nunez that resulted in a red card for Dembele.
Damien Duff forced Wisla keeper Jovanic into the first save of the game with a fierce low drive from 20 yards after five minutes. Fulham certainly showed the greater attacking intent early on but the home side also looked dangerous down the right channel and Schwarzer needed to be alert to save Iliev’s shot to the near post after 10 minutes. Iliev was to be thorn in Fulham’s side during the first 45.
Iliev went even closer less than a minute later when he found himself in possession behind Fulham’s midfield. As Fulham’s defence retreated Iliev cantered forward and tried his luck from 25 yards. A sudden deflection off Hangeland saw the ball loop over Schwarzer and bounce off the top of the cross bar.
Andrew Johnson’s effort in working the channels almost paid off after quarter of an hour after his strike from the right caught a deflection and almost produced a carbon copy of Iliev’s strike a few minutes earlier but Jovanic was well positioned to save.
Just before 20 minutes Mark Schwarzer denied Iliev’s next effort with a stunning save. Iliev struck the ball perfectly from 25 yards and it was Schwarzer’s pure athleticism that kept the score level with a first class save.
Mousa Dembele was handed arguably Fulham’s best chance of the half after 25 minutes when he was set free down the right channel. The Belgium cut inside to deliver a curling left footed shot from 18 yards towards the far post. Wisla keeper Jovanic read the play and made a comfortable save.
Iliev was causing mischief again moments later, twisting and turning Fulham’s defence in the area to produce a sight on goal. On this occasion his shot flew inches wide of Schwarzer’s near post.
The match erupted into controversy on the half hour mark when Mousa Dembele was sent off. After being tackled in the middle of the park Dembele pushed his opponent Nunez on the shoulder. Nunez went down immediately clutching his face.
Thursday night’s Referee Martin Hansson immediately reached for his red card and Fulham were down to ten men for the remaining hour of play. Martin Jol set about shuffling his pack straight away, with Andrew Johnson moving to right midfield and Orlando Sa playing as a lone striker.
Fulham saw out the first-half in relative comfort despite being a man down but Dembele’s sending off was a bitter pill to swallow for Martin Jol’s men at the break.
There was more than a ten-minute delay to the start of the half after a large section of the stadium’s floodlights went out at half-time. After the officials inspected Fulham’s end of the pitch the game resumed, even though a section of lights still remained out of use above Mark Schwarzer.
Ten-man Fulham started the second-half on the front foot and in the first few minutes Brede Hangeland leapt highest to almost connected with Duff’s corner six yards from goal. It was a positive start by Fulham who, whilst aggrieved at Dembele’s red card, clearly sensed victory was still within reach.
Any lack of light at Mark Schwarzer’s end did not stop the Aussie pulling off another magnificent save to deny Wisla captain, Wilk, after 51 minutes. The home side took command of possession as the hour mark approached but Fulham’s discipline and organisation limited the home side to speculative crosses and long-range efforts.
Martin Jol was forced once again to reshuffle his pack before the hour mark when Orlando Sa pulled up injured clutching his left hamstring. Pajtim Kasami replaced the striker with Andrew Johnson moving into attack.
Right before the hour mark Fulham were dealt a heavy blow when Biton scored for Wisla Krakow with a left footed strike from 20 yards to put the home side one-nil ahead.
Fulham looked to find a way back by taking command of possession and enjoyed a lengthy spell of pressure as the final 20 minutes approached. Steve Sidwell entered the fray for the final 15 minutes in place of Marcel Gecov. Sidwell certainly added some bite in midfield and ruffled a few Wisla feathers in the final ten minutes as he looked to earn Fulham a point.
There was a second red card on 86 minutes for Chavez, whose cynical high challenge and stamp on Andrew Johnson received nothing less than it deserved. Fulham manager Martin Jol immediately introduced exciting young talent Kerim Frei for the final few minutes of play.
Fulham remained camped in Wisla's half during the last phases of play but Jol's team could not find a way through. Nothing went Fulham's way on Thursday night and the game will be remembered for an unjust red card for Mousa Dembele that left Fulham with ten men for more than an hour.
Following Thursday night’s UEFA Europa League match in Poland Fulham are back in action this Sunday when they return to Craven Cottage to take on Everton in the Barclays Premier League.