Fulham failed to break down a dogged Haka defence at Craven Cottage this afternoon in a tame opening to the Whites’ InterToto Cup campaign. The Londoners dominated this contest from the outset but couldn’t beat an inspired Mihail Slawuta in the Haka goal and the stalemate places the Premiership side’s progression through the summer competition in some jeopardy.

Jean Tigana’s outfit carved out a collection of chances but wayward finishing, the woodwork and some superb saves from Slawuta – only appearing due to an injury to Haka’s regular goalkeeper – left the Finnish Cup winners fancying an upset ahead of the second leg in Valkeakoski on Sunday. The misfiring Steve Marlet, omitted from France’s World Cup squad on account of a poor first season at Fulham, might have scored a hatful on another day and a pained Tigana saw his other forwards also fail to break the deadlock.

Fulham, playing their first European fixture since a 1-1 draw with Bologna in the Anglo-Italian Cup in 1973, lacked a cutting edge or potency in the final third for long periods despite starting with three strikers in a bold 4-3-3 formation. Steed Malbranque, operating behind that front three, was often the instigator of the home side’s best attacks but cut a forlorn figure as glorious openings went begging. He teed up John Collins only for the Scot to skew a shot wastefully wide before Marlet was denied by a brilliant save from Slawuta, who turned the Frenchman’s rising drive onto the crossbar.

Summer signing Facundo Sava narrowly failed to connect with a cross-cum-shot from Malbranque, which was bravely pushed out by Slawuta, at the end of the first half. Marlet managed to miscue a shot on the stroke of half time – which struck Harri Ylonen in his face – after Jon Harley had galloped towards the byline.

Haka almost grabbed a precious away goal in a rare attack right at the start of the second half only, only for Hungarian striker Peter Kovács to guide a header straight at Maik Taylor. But the Northern Irish goalkeeper was a virtual spectator for the remainder of the game as Fulham laid siege to the Finnish goal. Saha saw a shot deflected onto the bar before Slawuta smothered a Marlet effort and the hosts might have figured it wasn’t going to their day when Abdes Ouaddoh was denied by the Polish goalkeeper from Malbranque’s free-kick.

Tigana threw on Barry Hayles, Bjarne Goldbaek and Luis Boa Morte in a fruitless search for a late winner – and Fulham will need to be far more clinical in Finland to avoid an embarrassing early exit.

FULHAM (4-3-3): Taylor; Ouaddoh, Harley, Goma, Melville; Davis, Collins, Malbranque (Goldbaek 78); Sava (Hayles 60), Marlet (Boa Morte 71), Saha. Subs (not used): Hahnemann, Knight, Hudson, Legwinski.

BOOKED: Malbranque.

FC HAKA (5-4-1): Slawuta; Kangaskorpi, Karjalainen, Okkonen, Pasoja, Ylönen; Rantala, Ristilä (Aalto 64), Innanen (Väisänen 79), Ruhanen (Koivuranta 78); Kovács. Subs (not used): Vilmunen, Koskinen, Pasanen, Torkkeli.

BOOKED: Rantala, Okkonen, Ylönen.

REFEREE: Ladislav Gádoši (Slovakia).


This report initially featured in 7 July 2002 edition of Sportscene.