We can only speculate on whether Hughes delivered the kind of half-time tongue-lashing that his former manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, who spent the afternoon sat next to Alistair Mackintosh in the Riverside stand, made famous. Whatever the Welshman said in the dressing room, his side were much sharper in the second period. The impetus for such a dramatic turnaround came from the introduction of Zoltan Gera, who – perhaps a little miffed not to have made the starting line-up – scored an eleven-minute hat-trick after the break to all but book his place in the side for next weekend’s league opener at Bolton.
Gera revelled in the withdrawn role behind Bobby Zamora, a position from where he shot to prominence midway through last season. The Hungarian, who has been recalled to the national side just in time to worry Fabio Capello ahead of Wednesday night’s friendly against England at Wembley, wasted little time in impressing Hughes. Four minutes after replacing Clint Dempsey, he fired Fulham in front from long range after turning smartly away from a couple of Bremen defenders, surprising the underrated Tim Wiese with an unstoppable shot that screamed into the top corner.
Gera and Zamora, who had already levelled the contest effortlessly six minutes after the break when he converted a one-on-one having been slipped in by Dempsey, showed that they had lost none of their almost telepathic understanding during the close season. They linked up cleverly with all the usual flicks and dangerous movement before combining to extend Fulham’s lead with just under twenty minutes left. Zamora drifted out to the right and floated a perfect cross for Gera, who looked suspiciously offside, to head emphatically home.
His hat-trick arrived in easier circumstances but was still finished with all the class we’ve come to expect. Wiese scampered off his line to prevent Zamora reaching a dangerous through ball but the goalkeeper’s clearance went straight to the former West Brom midfielder, who rolled a side-footed finish into the unguarded net from 35 yards. Such was Fulham’s dominance by this point, with sharper fitness and Werder’s half-time changes telling, that the Whites might have scored several more. There was time for Gera to cause havoc again, gliding away from a couple of tackles, before playing a glorious through pass for substitute Eddie Johnson to score a fifth with an assured low finish.
The 5-1 scoreline couldn’t have been anticipated as Bremen, gearing up for their Champions’ League qualifier with Sampdoria, completely controlled the first period with their crisp and consistent passing. Mark Schwarzer had already made two saves of contrasting difficulty by the time Pizarro stroked the Germans ahead after ten minutes: the Australian had to be alert to deny the Peruvian, but he produced a fine reaction stop to keep out a fierce drive from Hugo Almeida after the one-time Tottenham striker pounced on a misjudgement from John Pantsil.
Fulham didn’t heed the warning signs and Thomas Schaaf’s side took the lead shortly afterwards. Pantsil, who looked a little ring-rusty to say the least, failed to close down Torsten Frings down the Bremen left and Pizarro pounced on a missed header from Brede Hangeland to volley Bremen ahead. Things could have been a lot worse for Hughes two minutes later when a defensive mix-up saw Schwarzer desperately dash from his line in a doomed attempt to intercept a through ball. Almedia cleverly lifted the ball over the stranded Fulham goalkeeper but the former Tottenham forward’s finish came back off the post.
The introduction of World Cup wonderkid Mesut Ozil added extra vitality to Werder’s attacks and they certainly looked the more likely to score. Fulham created only the odd sporadic chance: a header from Dempsey floated wide early on and Zamora’s cross-cum-shot narrowly eluded the sliding Simon Davies at the far post. Hughes certainly won’t want such a slack start at the Rebook next weekend. He’ll draw comfort from the stylish way in which Fulham finished the contest, though.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil (Stoor 63), Konchesky (Kelly 63), Hughes, Hangeland; Etuhu (Baird 70), Murphy (Greening 70), Duff (Elm 78), Davies (Riise 72); Zamora (E. Johnson 78), Dempsey (Gera 61).
GOALS: Zamora (51), Gera (65, 71, 76), E. Johnson (86).
WERDER BREMEN (4-4-2): Wiese; Fritz, Pasanen, Prodl, Mertesacker (Boenisch 56); Borowski (Ozil 38), Bargfrede (F. Kroos 68), Frings (Jensen 45), Hunt (Marin 45); Pizarro (Wagner 75), Almeida (Arnautovic 45).
GOAL: Pizzaro (10).
REFEREE: Lee Probert (Gloucestershire)