Fulham cruised into the third qualifying round of the Europa League with a 4-0 second leg victory over a spirited Crusaders side at Craven Cottage. The 7-1 aggregate win sees Fulham travel to Croatia next week for the first leg of their third round qualifier against RNK Split, who booked their place with a 5-2 aggregate win over Domzale.
Martin Jol selected a strong side for the second leg and it proved a wise decision as Crusaders frustrated the Premier League with a display full of grit and resolute defending. New signing John Arne Riise was handed his debut at left back, greeted by ironic chants of ‘Mummy’s Boy’ from those members of the Hammersmith End choir with particularly long memories. This meant Matthew Briggs, who scored his first Fulham goal last week, had more opportunities to get forward from the left side of midfield, and the youngster looked lively early on, creating the Whites’ first chance. The England under-20 international burst through the centre of midfield and teed up Andy Johnson, who shot disappointingly straight at the goalkeeper.
The visitors played some attractive football and certainly weren’t afraid of throwing players forward. They carved out a couple of half chances, the best of which fell to striker Timmy Adamson, who climbed above Brede Hangeland but nodded Ciaran Gargan’s cross wide. They were soon to pay for that lack of composure in front of goal as Fulham took the lead with a counter attack of real quality. Brede Hangeland collected possession midway through the Fulham half and swept a glorious pass into the path of John Arne Riise, who was galloping down the left. Bobby Zamora cleverly dummied the Norwegian’s low cross, allowing Johnson to finish with aplomb from ten yards out.
Zamora’s presence and movement were causing real problems for Crues. He pulled away from his marker only to tamely head straight at Sean O’Neill, before a clever one-two with Steve Sidwell saw the former Reading midfielder, who enjoyed a nearly faultless evening, scuff his shot wide when clean through on goal. Sidwell, seemingly making the most of a license to roam from the centre of the park, had earlier rippled the side-netting after being found by a precise Johnson cross. The visitors’ dogged defending kept the second-leg deficit to a respectable one at half-time, but Fulham’s superior sharpness told in the second period.
Sidwell spurned two good chances to double the lead just after the break. O’Neill gathered his soft close-range header from a Duff free-kick, but the far post came to the aid of the Crusaders’ goalkeeper when Sidwell popped up at the back post as his header clipped the woodwork and trickled wide. It was left to Duff himself to apply the finishing touch as he raced onto a terrific through ball from Philippe Senderos. The chance appeared to have gone as Duff’s first touch took him wide, but the Republic of Ireland winger squeezed his shot inside the far corner effortlessly.
Fulham were rampant now. Ten minutes later, a well-worked third goal arrived. Johnson ran at the ragged Crusaders defence and Duff allowed his cross to run through to an unmarked Zamora, who hammered home gleefully. Sidwell finally grabbed his well-deserved goal just before he was substituted, guiding home a Duff corner from inside the six-yard box. There was time for eye-catching cameos from two of Fulham’s substitutes too. Bjorn-Helge Riise almost made an instant impact after replacing his brother, curling a 20-yard piledriver fractionally wide. Swiss starlet Kerim Frei built on his impressive display of a week ago with a brief display of eager running and confidence. It merited a goal, but the 17 year-old was denied by two brave blocks from Crusaders defenders.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Hughes, J.A. Riise (B.H. Riise 76), Senderos, Hangeland; Murphy, Sidwell (Etuhu 71), Duff, Briggs; Zamora, Johnson (Frei 71). Subs (not used): Etheridge, Kelly, Baird, Trotta.
GOALS: Johnson (19), Duff (56), Zamora (66), Sidwell (70).
CRUSADERS (4-4-2): O’Neill; McKeown, McBride, Leeman, Magowan; McCann (Faulkner 86), Watson, Gargan, Dallas; Adamson (Halliday 84), Owens (Rainey 68). Subs (not used): Murphy, McMaster, Gibson, Roy.
REFEREE: Marios Stamatis (Cyprus).