Fulham began their European campaign with a comfortable 3-0 win over Vetra in the Vilnius sunshine this evening.
Roy Hodgson’s side would not have known much about their Lithuanian opponents, who were the surprise conquerors of HJK Helsinki in the previous round, but the Fulham manager fielded the strongest side at his disposal for their first competitive fixture of the season. Chris Baird came into the holding role in central midfield with Dickson Etuhu having stayed behind as his partner was due to give birth and Zoltan Gera got a start out wide as Simon Davies continues to recover from a stress fracture of his foot.
The Whites nearly had a very early scare when Gediminas Palauskas nearly punished some slack marking at a corner with a downward header only for Danny Murphy to clear off the line. The vistors took a while to impose themselves on the game, but gradually got more and more into the contest and began to dominate proceedings. Murphy nearly provided Fulham’s opener on ten minutes when his floated free-kick found Brede Hangeland arriving dangerously but the Norwegian’s header flew wide.
A hatful of chances came and went as Fulham pressed for the vital opening goal. Andy Johnson shot wide when well placed and Zoltan Gera drove an effort over the crossbar when a bit of composure was required in front of goal. After a bit of scramble in the Vetra box, Chris Baird’s first-time shot was well parried by the goalkeeper and there was a real sense that the English side were now getting on top.
Just as Fulham seemed destined to head in scoreless at the break, Bobby Zamora popped up to break the deadlock. The much-maligned striker, who turned down a move to Hull last week, might have put any Fulham nerves at his ease when he shot straight at the goalkeeper having been played through by Johnson midway through the first half, made no such mistake just before half time. Murphy’s searching pass gave Zamora time to turn on the edge of the box and fire a left-foot shot past the goalkeeper to the delight of Fulham’s voicerfous travelling support.
Fulham grabbed their second early in the second half from a debatable penalty, when Zamora was deemed to have been pulled back inside the box by an incensed Algis Jankaukuas. Murphy made no mistake from the spot, drilling the ball into the far corner, and you sensed that the two-goal cushion gave the Whites a firm foothold in the tie.
Recognising the importance of keeping key players fresh with the Premier League season soon upon us, Hodgson rung the changes, replacing both Johnson and Clint Dempsey, who has only just returned to full training after his international exploits with the United States. It was one of the substitutes, Seol Ki-Hyeon, who put the gloss on a comfortable win with a third five minutes from time.
The Korean’s goal owed much to excellent work from Zamora and Gera down the Fulham right flank and Seol’s terrific finish left the despairing goalkeeper with little chance. The three goal margin should give Hodgson the leeway to experiment with his line up in the second leg next week should he wish.
FK VETRA (4-4-2): Valincius; Paulauskas, Borovskij, Jankauskas, Kijanskas; Ngapounou (Stanaitis 45), Rasanauskas, Vezevcius (Moroz 58), Masitsev; Grigalevicius, Grigaitis (Eliošius 76). Subs (not used): Galdikas, Bucholc, Zulpa, Kulbis.
BOOKED: Ngapounou, Jankauskas.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Konchesky, Hughes, Hangeland; Baird, Murphy (Riise 87), Dempsey (Seol Ki-Hyeon 81), Gera; A. Johnson (Nevland 69), Zamora. Subs (not used): Stockdale, Kelly, Kamara, E. Johnson.
GOALS: Zamora (45), Murphy (pen 57), Seol Ki-Hyeon (85).
REFEREE: Fritz Stuchlik (Austria).