On the face of it, this is the very sort of situation that has people wondering whether our European adventure is worth it. The morning papers have been full of headlines about Roy scratching his hair out or juggling his meagre resources in a bid to preserve our first leg lead in Russia this afternoon. Injuries have denied us the services of some key players and Amkar Perm might have scored a crucial away goal towards the end of last week’s first leg, but Fulham should have enough quality to pass this test.
The alternative view of the second leg in Russia is the one that Diomansy Kamara takes. Essentially, it’s time for the fringe players to step up. Kamara himself should be motivated to perform – with the opportunity of a decent run in the first team, as Andy Johnson was brutally sidelined in the first game, dangled in front of him. The Senegalese forward, impressive in little bursts towards the end of last season, has turned down moves away from Fulham in the summer, and despite some noises off from his agent, seems happy to stay at Craven Cottage. Today would be a great time to score one of those important goals he seems to specialise in. You get the feeling that one Fulham goal could finish Perm.
The Russians are certain to be a little more adventurous on their own (artificial) turf. That makes watertight defence, something we have delivered on the road often enough over the course of the past year, absolutely vital. The loss of Paul Konchesky is therefore disappointing but not terminal. Hodgson has options – he could shift John Pantsil across to left back and bring in Stephen Kelly or give the shirt to young Joe Anderson, who has been impressive at left back for the reserves. Chris Baird has also played there, but he’s more likely to be battling Bjorn Helge Riise and young Matty Saunders for the right to replace Danny Murphy in central midfield.
Fulham were able to carve Perm open quite easily in the first leg and the slowness of their defence suggests that Kamara’s pace might bring reward. The manner in which Damien Duff burst away from the right back to make what now seems a massively important third goal that night indicates that the Irishman has both the tricks and the speed to scare the Russians down the left. That one moment of magic could well come from Duff’s boot.
Hodgson has scotched suggestions that Fulham might well sit on what they have this afternoon.
Our tactics won’t differ from the tactics from the first match. Obviously we would also like to score a goal here. I will have to make some changes to the team and will think about that overnight before making a final decision.
Hodgson didn’t avoid the possibility of an upset, saying that a 3-1 scoreline is much more dangerous that the 3-0 advantage Fulham held, if only briefly, in the first leg. The boys will be in a battle later on – there’s no doubt about that – let’s hope they come through unscathed.
MY FULHAM XI (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Kelly, Pantsil, Hughes, Hangeland; Baird, Murphy, Riise, Duff; Nevland, Kamara. Subs: Stockdale, Smalling, Seol Ki-Hyeon, Gera, Saunders, Dempsey, E. Johnson.