Fulham in the end take the game quite comfortably but were within a crossbar of potentially being shocked by the underdog before two late goals from Zamora and Murphy put the game, and most likely the tie, to bed.
The first 20 minutes or so were predictable. Other than fashioning a couple of opportunities when Duff and Frei, the 17 year old Austrian making quite an impression on his first start for the club, found themselves in space from twenty yards and forcing the keeper into a couple of decent saves there was very little in the way of goalmouth action. Still, Fulham dominated possession and left the Crusaders defending deep and in numbers, themselves sometimes getting the ball forward but with very little purpose.
Eventually Fulham started cranking up the pressure, Andy Johnson finding Duff in the box and after a skillful show of close control had a shot blocked from 6 yards before Briggs, another young player who was putting on an impressive display with constant bursting runs deep into the Crusaders’ half, notched his first goal for the club. It was a great first goal too and a possible contender for goal of the season, lashing home after a set piece wasn’t dealt with by the home side from just outside the box into the top left corner with power and swerve. Just after that Frei, on another characteristic run, darted past three or four defenders before disappointingly scuffing his shot when surely a second Fulham goal was on.
Twenty seconds after the restart Fulham missed another glorious chance to add another to the tally as Johnson crossed from the byline only for Zamora to miss the ball by a matter of inches. The Crusaders however had come out with a bit more intention for the second fourty five too and the warning signs were there when McMaster took a heavy touch with a sight on goal instead of shooting first time before Briggs made an important interception, following which he ran with the ball from his own penalty area to the opposition byline with impressive pace before eventually taking one touch too many and putting it out for a goal kick. Still, Fulham continued to threaten themselves and a clever free kick routine almost resulted in a 25 yard Baird drive nestling into the bottom corner, but O’Brien in goal had other ideas. However, there was to be a twist in the tale. After failing to deal with a ball into the box Adamson took a lovely touch to hook the ball over Aaron Hughes before dispatching the shot from a tight angle. An impressive finish, but something that could have been avoidable.
The Crusaders’ goal seemed to make Fulham lose some of their composure as their control on the game slipped for a period and they should have gone behind when a gilt edged opportunity went awry. Dallas sprinted down the left before making mugs of Baird and Hangeland and despite slipping in the area got the ball to the unmarked Adamson 12 yards out who smashed the ball against the crossbar. A lucky escape and it was to be a chance that minnows would rue not taking; Fulham eventually took command of the game again with Frei, who’s influence on the game had noticably diminished in the second half, sparked into life, beating several defenders before laying off a shot for Duff which was blocked.
Eventually Fulham made their superior quality count thanks to two goals in three minutes. Zamora got his first for the season after a near post flick on from an inswinging corner by Duff before Johnson’s shot was blasted at Leeman’s arm in the box from which Murphy got his second in two games from the spot. From thereon the game petered out, Fulham comfortably seeing the last fifteen minutes home, even missing the chance to add a fourth when Sidwell’s first touch hit the crossbar, and providing the chance for summer signing Donegan to get some minutes under his belt.
All in all, a deserved victory for Fulham but they were made to work for it. The result today has surely put any doubts about progressing to bed with the Crusaders needing to score three in the return leg at the Cottage on Thursday.
CRUSADERS (4-4-2): O’Neill; McBride, McKeown, Leeman, Magowan; Watson (Faulkner 85), McCann, Dallas (Gargan 70), McMaster; Adamson, Owens (Rainey 82). Subs (not used): N. Murphy, Halliday, Gibson, Roy.
GOAL: Adamson (54).
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Baird, Briggs, Hughes, Hangeland; Etuhu (Sidwell 78), D. Murphy, Duff (Donegan 85), Frei; Zamora, Johnson (Riise 78). Subs (not used): Stockdale, Kelly, Senderos, Halliche.
GOALS: Briggs (39), Zamora (74), D. Murphy (pen 77).
REFEREE: Clement Turpin (France).