Fulham were frustrated by Faroese part-timers NSI Runavik tonight but the goalless draw was enough to book a place in the Europa League second qualifying round against Crusaders next week.
Despite leaving skipper Danny Murphy back in London, Martin Jol named a strong side for the second week running against Fulham’s doughty opponents. Jol made four changes from the 3-0 win at Craven Cottage, bringing in Stephen Kelly for Chris Baird and Philippe Senderos for Aaron Hughes whilst Steve Sidwell replaced Murphy and Jonathan Greening deputised for Simon Davies, who was a late withdrawal with a knee problem. The Whites started strongly with plenty of possession, but were restricted to largely long-range shots as well-organised NSI side defended stoutly.
Bobby Zamora, who was well-marshalled for most of the contest, headed Fulham’s first real clear-cut chance over the bar before Damien Duff drove a cracking effort against the crossbar. Duff, who was posing real problems cutting in from the right, fired in a rising shot that beat the outstanding Andras Gango but didn’t dip enough to break the deadlock. The Hungarian goalkeeper did well to race off his line and thwart Andy Johnson as the former Crystal Palace striker bore down on goal and then parried another Duff shot. The Republic of Ireland international spurned a glorious opening just before the break when, after tireless work from Johnson, he sliced a shot horribly over the bar from six yards out.
Fulham continued to press but a combination of disappointing final balls and the lack of a finishing touch meant they couldn’t add to their comfortable aggregate lead. Dickson Etuhu tested Gango’s reflexes with a powerful header and the pattern continued after the half-time break. Steve Sidwell saw a promising run thwarted by a brave dive at his feet from the Hungarian Gango and Zamora failed to get any real power behind a downward header after a fine run and cross from Greening. Jol’s late changes, bringing on Karim Frei for his Fulham debut and young striker Lauri Dalla Valle, hinted at Fulham trying to force the issue, but the home side had the best chance in the closing minutes. Lone striker Klæmint Olsen found himself clean through on the Fulham goal, but under pressure from Senderos sent his shot disappointingly wide.
Jol cut a frustrated figure on the touchline at the full-time whistle as the thousand-strong crowd saluted NSI Runavik’s finest result. The part-timers deserved their celebrations: this was a determined and well-organised performance from a side who might have been overrun after shipping three goals at the Cottage. Any Fulham fan feeling a pang of disappointment should remember that is only the start of another long season – and Jol will be hoping his side peak much later in their European adventure.
NSI RUNAVIK (4-5-1): Gango; J. Frederiksburg, J. Joensen, Mortensen (Danielsen 84), Hansen; Jacobsen, Toronjadze (A. Frederiksburg 90), Hansen, Pedersen, Lakjuni; K.A. Olsen (Mikkelsen 90). Subs (not used): K. Joensen, Sorensen, M. Olsen, Liknargotu.
BOOKED: J. Joensen.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Kelly, Briggs, Hangeland, Senderos; Etuhu, Sidwell, Duff (Dalla Valle 86), Greening (Riise 76); Zamora, A. Johnson (Frei 72). Subs (not used): Stockdale, Halliche, Smith.
REFEREE: Nikolai Hannu (Switzerland).