Paul Thorpe reporting from Sochaux
Sochaux 2-0 Fulham
The squad departed early from Biggin Hill airfield on Friday morning for the near two-hour flight to Belfort Airport - located just inside the French-Swiss border. Following a very bumpy flight after which some squad members complained of airsickness, the lads made their way by road to the Montbeliard area of the region.
On approaching our destination, some rather seasonal snow began to fall, much to the anxiety of Louis Saha and Luis Boa Morte who both started an anxious search through Pudsey's kitbag for some gloves. Unfortunately they only managed to find one pair, and much to the amusement of the other lads, the suggestion was made that they used one each!
Upon arrival at the squad's hotel, which was not too far from the mountainous region of Montagne de Lomont, Jean Tigana and the rest of the squad were warmly greeted by Sochaux officials.
Sochaux are a side very similar to Fulham in many respects. They had a glamorous history up until 30-40 years ago. But since then, they have fallen on hard times, up until last season when were promoted back to the French First Division as Champions. The similarities don't end there, Sochaux's new stadium, the Stade Bonal - Montbeliard is architecturally very reminiscent of Fulham's planned all-seated arena, albeit 10,00 places short of the 'new' Craven Cottage.
Fulham got the friendly under way in the bitterly cold surroundings wearing their away strip of red and black. With the temperature hovering just above freezing point, and a with a high wind chill factor, keeping active was important for players and spectators alike.
Sochaux wasted little time in getting Fulham on the back foot as their first serious attack in the 2nd minute resulted in Goldbaek committing a foul in a dangerous position. Luckily for Fulham, the resulting set piece came to nothing. With the away side still struggling to maintain possession, John Collins gave away another foul as Fulham looked to be barely holding on in the opening minutes.
Such was Sochaux's early domination of the match that it took Fulham until the 5th minute to construct a fluent passing move that carried the ball over the half-way line. However, due to a lack of understanding, the move broke down with Francileudo Dos Santos Silva, Sochaux's tricky Brazilian front man, intercepting.
Only a matter of seconds later, Santos was involved again as he managed to break through on the right and was able to fire a low cross into the area. A cross that was dispatched into the roof of Maik Taylor's net by Mikael Isabey. 1-0 Sochaux.
The early storm was far from being weathered, as again, Fulham gave away another free-kick after struggling to maintain possession of the ball in their own half. With Sochaux's rapid-fire start to the match, the overriding impression was that Fulham were caught off balance and were struggling to find a coherent pattern of play.
Fulham's first significant chance of the half came on the 13 minute mark as a shot from Louis Saha was deflected into the path of an advancing Bjarne Goldbaek. The Danish international pulled the trigger and unleashed a venomous shot which the home 'keeper could only save with his feet.
As Fulham began to regain their composure, the Whites' started to move the ball further up the pitch with increasing degrees of confidence. One such move on 17 minutes resulted in Rufus Brevett being unceremoniously dumped on his backside. From Luis Boa Morte's resulting free-kick, Bjarne Goldbaek found himself, again, in a shooting position courtesy of a deflection. Fortunately for the home side, Goldbaek's shot was tipped over the bar.
As the game drifted back towards a more balanced affair, Fulham had, quite possibly, their best scoring opportunity of the half as Louis Saha set Andrejs Stolcers away. The delightfully weighted ball, which fell straight into the Latvian's path was smothered by the onrushing 'keeper before Stolcers could pick his spot.
With Goldbaek in particular looking very dangerous in attack, Fulham were looking to claw their way back into the game. However, the few forward raids by Fulham mostly failed as a result of a poor final ball - a factor which hid the effectiveness of Fulham's running.
At this stage the game was now on a more equal footing in terms of possession, although Sochaux threatened through their dangerous looking right-back Daf - who was giving Brevett a testing time. Indeed, a further attack from Daf resulted in Symons giving away a free-kick in a hazardous area. The consequent free kick was played into the box for a Sochaux player to narrowly glance his header past Maik Taylor's post.
Having seen their initial advantage eroded by some dogged Fulham passing, Sochaux made one final push and managed to end the first period of play in the ascendancy, and the Fulham team looked grateful to reach the interval only one goal down.
Just as the half drew to a close Brevett was booked for a mistimed challenge on Marcello Trapasso. Not content with the official's handling of the situation, moments later the Argentinian took a kick at Brevett long after the left-back had passed the ball away.
At the break Barry Hayles replaced Louis Saha as Jean Tigana looked to start the second period of the match with more of a physical presence in attack.
The second half quickly settled down into a fairly even-paced affair although Sochaux again had the upper hand in the early exchanges. Even though Fulham started the second half on a more even keel, Sochaux managed to make it 2-0 on 51 minutes.
Following a good, fast moving break down Fulham's left, an accurate cross by Crucet fell to Trapasso for the dangerous-looking Argentinian to fire an angled drive past Taylor.
After the match Jon Harley admitted that the powerful shot also took a slight deflection off his knee. So in fairness to the Fulham 'keeper, there was not much he could do to prevent the French side from doubling their lead.
With Fulham still firmly pressed back in their own half, Kit Symons chipped an inch-perfect pass up to Barry Hayles - however, with Hayles outnumbered by three-to-one, there was very little he could do.
Moments later, without doubt, Sochaux's most dangerous player, Santos broke clear down Fulham's right hand side. Having reached the penalty area, Santos dragged the ball inside and managed to buy himself enough time to rifle in a powerful shot, which forced a magnificent save from Taylor.
With Fulham now attacking with limited personnel, Luis Boa Morte came close to netting for the Whites as his cross come shot almost crept inside the far post.
With almost an hour gone, Zat Knight, who was playing out of position at right back was replaced by Abdes Ouaddou.
As the second half continued to develop, it was that man Santos who was running rings around Fulham's defence - no doubt Jean Tigana will have taken note...
Following on from Brevett's nasty tangle with Trapasso at the end of the first half, Fulham's left back was substituted after again becoming involved in a series of minor but niggling incidents. His substitution saw Jon Harley move to left back with Kevin Betsy coming on to fill Harley's role in midfield.
As Sochaux began to make a series of substitutions, the pace of the game began to slow down as the result became more and more inevitable.
Fulham's final significant attack of the match came five minutes before the end of the match as Boa Morte did well to cut the ball back from the byline only for Ouaddou to scuff his shot well wide.
All in all, Sochaux were in control of the game for the majority of the match and showed why they're sitting in 6th position in the French First Division.
It has to be said that on the night, technically at least, the French looked a class above most of the opposition we've faced so far in the Premiership with only Arsenal looking more comfortable on the ball. Having said that, it was very much a mix and match Fulham team, and the bumby journey over, along with the shockingly cold conditions, didn't exactly make for a top rate performance.
MoM: Bjarne Goldbaek (Fulham)
Fulham: Maik Taylor, Zat Knight, Andy Melville, Kit Symons, Rufus Brevett, Jon Harley, John Collins, Andrejs Stolcers, Bjarne Goldbaek, Boa Morte, Saha
44 Hayles on for Saha
57 Ouaddou on for Zat Knight
72 Betsy on for Brevett
Booked: Brevett '44