As first games go, this was the perfect way for Martin Jol to start life at Fulham. It seemed somewhat odd to be watching football by the Thames before the school year has even finished and it took a while for Fulham to shake blow away the pre-season cobwebs, but goals from Damien Duff, Danny Murphy and Andy Johnson secured a comfortable first-leg lead over NSI Runavik.
The Faroe Islanders actually looked a well-organised and compact side. They were defensively sound, designed to restrict their more illustrious hosts and frustrated Jol’s attacking ambitions for more than half an hour. Jol surprised everyone by picking what was close to his strongest available side. Mark Schwarzer started in goal, Matthew Briggs replaced Carlos Salcido at left back and Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson were reunited up front. They started at some pace, with Johnson almost breaking the deadlock inside the first minute. A sweeping move which saw Danny Murphy feed Bobby Zamora down the left ankle of the box culminated with Johnson’s clever near-post flick, but the visitors’ most impressive performer, goalkeeper Andras Gango, and defender Helgi Petersen combined to keep the ball out.
There then followed plenty of pretty passing but little in the way of penetration. Damien Duff, Fulham’s most expressive outlet in a rather mundane first period, came the closest as he sauntered across the penalty area, beating two defenders, and shot narrowly wide. NSI responded almost instantly, with an ambitious effort from Justinus Hansen sending a worried Schwarzer scurrying across his goalmouth.
Duff eased any lingering doubts about Fulham’s superiority after 33 minutes. Briggs found Zamora on the edge of the box and, although Simon Davies failed to collect his lay-off, the ball fell kindly for Duff, who drove it with his some venom into the far corner. A slight deflection off Johnson left the otherwise excellent Gango with little chance of stopping it. Just to prove that was something of an anomaly the Faroes’ goalkeeper made a terrific fingertip stop to turn over Zamora’s curling free-kick minutes before the break.
After half-time, Gango was at it again. He managed to claw away a deflected Zamora drive five minutes into the second half and was also equal to efforts from Johnson and Aaron Hughes. Brede Hangeland almost doubled the Fulham lead from a corner as the NSI came under sustained pressure and the Whites did eventually get a second, courtesy of a generous penalty when Petersen was adjudged to have brought down Davies. Murphy duly dispatched the spot-kick, sending Gango the wrong way.
Gango then thwarted Johnson with a terrific reaction save, but could do nothing to prevent Fulham’s third. Zamora found Johnson with a nicely threaded pass and the former Everton finished low across Gango and into the far corner. Fulham continued to press forward, with Zamora failing to get the ball out for underneath his feet as he bore down on goal and Lauri Dalla Valle somehow failing to turn Duff’s cross into an unguarded net. Still, this was a highly satisfactory start.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Baird, Briggs, Hughes, Hangeland; Etuhu (Sidwell 72), Murphy, Duff, Davies (Riise 68); Zamora (Dalla Valle 78). Subs (not used): Stockdale, Kelly, Senderos, Greening.
GOALS: Duff (31), Murphy (61), Johnson (70).
NSI RUNAVIK (4-5-1): Gango; J. Frederiksberg, Mikkelsen, Petersen, J. Joensen; Hansen, Jacobsen, Lakjuni, Mortensen (M. Olsen 86), Danielsen (A. Frederiksberg 78); K.A. Olsen (Líknargøtu 90). Subs (not used): K. Joensen, Sorensen.
REFEREE: Bernard Brugger (Austria).