Fulham bounced back from their defeat by Gold Coast United by recording a comfortable win over the A-League Champions in Melbourne on Saturday.
It was a far stronger looking side that took the field against the Victory, with Aaron Hughes slotting in alongside his international colleague Chris Baird in the centre of defence. Andy Johnson and Bobby Zamora reprised their regular partnership up front for the Whites, while captain Danny Murphy again started in midfield.
The home side began at quite a pace. Archie Thompson’s early header forced Mark Schwarzer into a fine save and the Fulham goal was put under concerted pressure by the Australian international striker in the opening ten minutes. Another run on goal came to nothing before Schwarzer failed to gather a cross-cum-shot and had to bailed out by the covering Hughes.
Fulham were playing some nice football but failing to create too many clear chances. Andy Johnson bore down on goal but the home goalkeeper tore out of his penalty area to head clear. Johnson was busy – working the channels as he had done for much of his first season at Craven Cottage – and a threatening cross forced a corner, from which Seol should have done better with a header.
With Murphy becoming more influential, Fulham went ahead just after the half hour. The Fulham captain played a lovely through ball over a static Melbourne defence and Johnson was crudely fouled by goalkeeper Mitchell Langerak. Rather surprising, given Murphy’s impressive success rate from the spot last season, it was AJ who stepped up to take the penalty himself – although he converted it with consumate ease.
Fulham should have gone in two goals to the good at half time. Pantsil’s cross was cleverly dummied by Zamora, but Seol spurned another good opening at the back post, spooning the ball well over the bar.
The Whites could have seen their advantage evaporate early in the second half, but substitute Nick Ward could only find the side netting with an instinctive half-volley. Instead, it was the visitors who were largely on the offensive. Johnson, sent through by another imperious Murphy pass, was thwarted by Langerak and, when the former England forward turned provider, spraying a glorious crossfield pass to free Zoltan Gera, Zamora saw his shot scrambled off the line by a defender.
The home side still looked threatening and created their best chance of the match just after the hour. Thompson looked poised to punish some slack Fulham defending inside the box after Danny Allsopp’s untimely slip presented his strike partner with a glorious chance, but Thompson’s shot struck the top of the bar and went over.
Far from disrupting the contest, three Roy Hodgson changes galvanised Fulham. One of the substitutes, the much-maligned Eddie Johnson, made an immediate impact. Andranik hit a high through ball forward and the American sped away from the Victory defence to fire the ball past the goalkeeper. With 18 minutes left, it was three. Seol robbed a defence and freed Erik Nevland, who finished with the kind of confidence that we are used to seeing from the ice-cool Norway striker.
Fulham finish their pre-season tour against Perth Glory on Wednesday.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer (Stockdale 64); Pantsil (Briggs 78), Kallio (Kelly 45), Hughes, Baird; Gera (Stoor 74), Murphy (Saunders 78), Andranik (Leijer 78), Seol; Zamora (Nevland 64), A. Johnson (E. Johnson 64).