They came to London for a party last night and packed out more than half of Loftus Road in green and white. Celtic’s legendary travelling support were out in force and as vocal as ever as they flocked to Shepherd’s Bush to catch a glimpse of their heroes. Roared on by a full School End and most of the Ellersie Road stand, the UEFA Cup finalists did not disappoint, easing into a telling two goal lead inside the first 20 minutes, and stretching their impressive unbeaten run against English opposition to thirteen matches.
This fiercely contested friendly was Fulham’s sternest pre-season test to date and their young first half start had no answer to their visitors’ bright start. Celtic, who wasted a good early chance when Chris Sutton volleyed over, went in front after eight minute when Fulham failed to properly clear an Alan Thompson corner. The Bhoys kept possession and Stilian Petrov’s turn and shot from 20 yards beat Edwin van der Sar on its way into the far corner. The visitors’ joy was tempered however when Stanislav Varga had to be stretchered off with an ankle injury after eighteen minutes. Martin O’Neill’s team looked the more comfortable on the ball and made their extra man in midfield count when Henrik Larsson doubled their lead. The Swedish striker beat Zat Knight to slot him from Bobby Petta’s cross after the lively winger had teased Mark Hudson down the Celtic left.
Coleman then changed his formation, opting to play five across midfield and leave Louis Saha up front. The hosts’ attacks were sporadic, with the dangerous Luis Boa Morte the only man to trouble Celtic’s defence. The Portuguese winger was Fulham’s most potent threat, but too often Saha would receive the ball early and have the enviable task of holding it up against three or four defenders whilst waiting for the flood of White shirts from midfield. Fulham’s best chance came in the form of a raking Sean Davis shot which was palmed away by Magnus Hedman, who had saved from Saha earlier, moments before the interval.
The usual flurry of half-time substitutions in these pre-season games included the introduction of Steed Malbranque, whose arrival sparked a Fulham revival. The French midfielder was given enough time and space to run and pass the ball freely as Fulham began to gain a grip on the game for the first time. They deservedly pulled one back on 58 minutes, when Facundo Sava pounced from close range after Celtic had failed to clear their lines.
The goal spurred Fulham on and the home side closed the stronger. The closest they came to an equaliser was when substitute Barry Hayles cleverly diverted a shot from Academy winger Malik Buari onto the crossbar with his head. His opportunist effort left Rob Douglas beaten, but the ball bounced away to safety off the frame of the goal. Douglas was tested again by a stinging Malbranque shot, which he turned around the far post, and in the closing moments, the former French under-21 captain came close to equalising with a curling effort from the edge of the box.
FULHAM (4-4-2): van der Saar (Taylor 46); Hudson, Knight, Djetou (Goma 45), Harley (Green 45); Inamoto (Buari 45), Davis (Clark 45), Rehman (Legwinski 45), Boa Morte (Malbranque 45); Saha (Sava 45), Hammond (Hayles 45).
GOAL: Sava (59).
GLASGOW CELTIC (3-5-2): Hedman (Douglas 45); Mjällby (Sylla 45), Varga (Crainey 18), Valgaeren (Kennedy 45); Smith (Fernandez 62), Miller (Lambert 45) Petrov (Lennon 45), Thompson (Prunty 85), Petta (Guppy 45); Sutton (Wallace 62), Larsson (Beattie 62). Sub (not used): Marshall.
GOALS: Petrov (10), Larsson (15).
REFEREE: Paul Taylor.