As is often the case with Fulham away from about, there wasn’t an awful lot to get you excited about this performance. It was long on endeavour, but short on sparkle. But there was plenty to admire. Those qualities that Roy Hodgson has infused his team with since taking the reigns at Craven Cottage were in evidence again tonight: discipline, organisation, resilience and hard work. As we’ve seen over the past couple of years, putting in the hard yards can carry you a long way. After a goalless draw in Hamburg, it might – just might – take Fulham to a European final.
This performance was all the more laudable when you consider the torturous nature of Fulham’s journey to Germany. Forced to bus it by the volcanic ash and, having had to pass the time on an autobahn by kicking a football around on the hard shoulder, there were fears that the boys might be more than a bit stiff as they stepped up to take on a Hamburg side, fired up by the desire to avenge last year’s painful semi-final defeat.
But Fulham didn’t buckle. For all of the home side’s dominance of both possession and territory, Hamburg didn’t create too much clearcut chances. The combination of Paolo Guerrero, who kept dropping into positions where Fulham struggled to curb his influence, and the bustling Ruud van Nistelrooy threatened to make this an uncomfortable evening for the visiting defence, but the unflappable Aaron Hughes and imposing Brede Hangeland kept their cool. On the one ocassion that van Nistelrooy, often the scourge of Fulham in previous, found space in behind the two centre backs, out came Mark Schwarzer to mop up the danger.
Hamburg were otherwise restricted to efforts from outside the box with Piotr Piotr Trochowski sending a couple of shots narrowly wide. It was Fulham who actually came the closest to breaking the deadlock. Bobby Zamora, who looked unlikely to start the game after injuring himself in the warm-up, did well to flick a Paul Konchesky punt into Zoltan Gera’s path. The Hungarian’s shot deflected off Jerome Boateng and flew inches wide.
Zamora’s evening wasn’t extended much beyond half-time as his hamstring injury necessitated the introduction of a replacement. Clint Dempsey made another return from injury in the Europa League and had an immediate impact with his direct running worrying the Hamburg defence. He had a penalty appeal turned down and combined with the excellent Gera on a couple of ocassions to threaten a precious away goal.
The American was on hand to tap in a low cross from Gera had Joris Mathijsen failed to cut it out and then the former West Brom midfielder broke into the box, cutting inside before slipping at the crucial moment. The game became more stretched in the final stages but Fulham stuck resolutely to their task with Schwarzer making excellent stops from long-range shots by Jonathan Potroipa and Trochowski. The Australian goalkeeper, who had an extra reason to perform tonight given his German parentage, did brilliantly to preserve parity when he got his hands to a powerful shot from skipper David Jarolim.
HAMBURG (4-4-2): Rost; Demel (Rincon 82), Aogo, Mathijsen, J. Boateng; Ze Roberto, Jarolim, Pitroipa, Trochowski; Guerrero (Petric 72), van Nistelrooy. Subs (not used): Hesl, Rozenhal, Tesche, Tunay Torun, Rincon.
BOOKED: Mathijsen, Trochowski.
FULHAM (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer; Baird, Konchesky, Hughes, Hangeland; Etuhu, Murphy, Duff, Davies; Gera; Zamora (Dempsey 52). Subs (not used): Zuberbuhler, Smalling, Kelly, Dikgacoi, Greening, Nevland.
BOOKED: Baird, Gera.
REFEREE: Bo Larsen (Denmark).