|Fulham are held to a 1-1 draw with CSKA Sofia.|
Assist by Erik Nevland
Jonathan Greening Card was given for a foul
Chris Smalling Card was given for a foul
Diomansy Kamara Card was given for dissent
Fulham’s trip to Bulgaria to play CSKA Sofia offered several members of Roy Hodgson’s squad the chance to impress on the European stage.
Hodgson left a number of players from his regular starting eleven back in London ahead of this Sunday’s Barclays Premier League encounter away to Wolves.
Nonetheless, Fulham’s line-up was packed full of internationals looking to make their mark. Following a successful debut against Everton on Sunday, David Stockdale retained his place in goal.
Featuring in defence alongside Stephen Kelly, Chris Baird and John Pantsil was Chris Smalling. Only eighteen months ago Smalling was playing for Maidstone United before his talent was recognised by Fulham, and more recently, Stuart Pearce, who selected the centre-back for England’s U21 squad last month.
Zoltan Gera and Simon Davies patrolled Fulham’s flanks with Jonathan Greening and Bjorn Helge Riise in central midfield. Davies captained the side with Diomansy Kamara and Erik Nevland leading the attack. Fulham’s bench featured six graduates from the Club's Academy.
It was a truly unique atmosphere inside the Vasil Levski National Stadium. The expansive running track did little to soften the deafening reception Fulham’s players received prior to kick-off.
For the first time in European club competition the match featured six officials. Two further officials on each team’s goal line joined the Referee, Darko Caferin, his two Assistant Referees and the Fourth Official.
Fulham got the game underway at 8pm local time and after three minutes of play Ivan Stoyanov almost sent the already excitable home crowd wild when he cut inside from the right flank and fired a curling left footed shot just wide of Stockdale’s far post from 25 yards.
Despite the home side’s early effort Fulham brought some calm to proceedings during the early exchanges with some confident, assured play. Hodgson’s men were certainly committed, with Greening and Pantsil in particular, throwing themselves into full-blooded challenges in the first fifteen minutes.
Greening was booked on 21 minutes for a lunge on Yanev as the midfielder broke through Fulham’s ranks. It was a rare breach of Fulham’s defence as the Whites well organised, two banks of four, limited CSKA Sofia to speculative shots and crosses from deep.
Yordan Minev was the next player to go into Referee Darko Ceferin’s book for obstructing Gera down Fulham’s left flank on 29 minutes.
As the half hour mark approached Fulham ventured down the right flank with some success. Pantsil almost reached the six-yard line after one mazy run down the wing and moments later Smalling headed over Karadzhov’s bar from a Fulham corner.
A rare mistake by Pantsil forced Stockdale to make a low save to his right on 36 minutes. Pantsil allowed a cross-field ball to pass over his head, setting Ivan Stoyanov through on goal down the left flank. Fortunately his effort lacked the pace and power to seriously test Stockdale.
Moments before half-time Fulham produced a fine passing move which cut through the heart of CSKA Sofia’s defence. Kamara, Nevland and Greening combined in the area to set the latter through on goal on the edge of the six-yard line. Greening attempted to centre the ball to Kamara in a central position but his pass was intercepted before Kamara could finish. The game remained on level terms going into the break.
CSKA got the second half underway and immediately went on the offensive. Chris Smalling was booked within 60 seconds of the restart for an over-exuberant challenge outside Fulham’s area.
Todorov was the main instigator for CSKA Sofia’s attacking play at the start of the second period. The right-sided attacking midfielder had two shots on goal and a penalty appeal turned down before Yanchev wasted a great chance inside Fulham’s area.
Fulham’s defence was certainly tested but stood firm until CSKA Sofia took the lead though substitute Michel after 62 minutes. The striker raced onto a ball through the middle of park and smashed a ferocious shot past Stockdale. The home crowd erupted but their celebrations were to be short lived; Roy Hodgson’s team served up the best possible response just three minutes later.
Diomansy Kamara pulled Fulham level with a cool finish following a turn of pace which caught CSKA Sofia’s defence cold.
A ball through the middle of the park behind a high defensive line saw goalkeeper Karadzhov racing off his line to meet the ball 30 yards from goal. The keeper failed to account for Kamara’s blistering pace. The striker rounded Karadzhov and coolly fired the ball home from the left hand side of the area.
Fifteen minutes from time Stockdale produced a stunning save to deny Todorov. A cross from the left found the midfielder in a central position and his fierce drive was heading for the roof of the net before Stockdale intervened with a superb fingertip save.
Moments later Zoltan Gera lofted a speculative 40-yard cross from the left flank towards goal. The ball dipped under the cross bar and Karadzhov was forced to palm to ball to safety.
As the game entered the final ten minutes of play CSKA upped the ante but their forward momentum left them looking more vulnerable on the counter attack. With Kamara leading the line, Fulham possessed a player with the pace and skill to seriously concern the home side.
Fulham didn't manage to breach CSKA's defence in the final minutes but can be thoroughly proud of a truly professional performance in Sofia on Thursday night.
Competition: UEFA Europa League
Date: Thursday 17 September 2009
Referee: Darko Ceferin
Team line-up is not available.
Line-up: Stockdale; Pantsil, Kelly; Greening; Baird, Smalling; Davies, Gera; Nevland, Kamara; Bjorn Helge Riise
Unused substitutes: Zuberbühler, Smith, Marsh-Brown, Teymourian, Milsom, Saunders, Uwezu