No Bobby Zamora, no Moussa Dembele. No problem. Martin Jol shouldn’t have worried – because two predatory strikes from Andy Johnson secured a much-needed win in Odense ahead of Sunday’s local derby against QPR.
Johnson’s Fulham career has been full of injury lay-offs and false dawns, with his body seemingly failing just as he looked set to get into his stride. The 30 year-old might be shorn of the blistering pace with which he announced himself onto the Premier League stage with Crystal Palace some six years ago, but he’s still a force to reckoned with in front of goal. His brace papered over the cracks of an edgy Fulham performance but ended a worrying run of nine games without a win for Jol’s side.
Johnson toiled for much of the evening as a lone striker, but came alive when in sight of the Odense eighteen yard box. His first goal arrived just as the home side were beginning to put the Londoners under some pressure towards the end of the first half. It owed plenty to Clint Dempsey’s persistence as the American rode two challenges to feed Johnson on the left wing. The former England striker glided into the penalty area and drove his shot through Stefan Wessels and into the far corner, although the ex-Everton goalkeeper will feel he should have kept it out.
Fulham’s lead was more than merited after a bright start with Dempsey seeing a shot blocked by Tore Reginiussen and a header cleared off the line by former Manchester United midfielder Eric Djemba-Djemba, but the home side had good openings themselves. After settling a lot later than Jol’s side, Odense belied their poor domestic form in a competitive and spirited display. On another day, powerful Senegalese striker Djiby Fall could have had a hat-trick. He was denied from eight yards by a superb sprawling save from Mark Schwarzer, sent a spectacular volley inches wide and skied a sidefooted finish high over the bar just before the break.
Odense began the second half in the same vein and carried a real threat to the Fulham goal. Djemba-Djemba sent one of a succession of hopeful long-distance strikes over the crossbar before Andreas Johansson, who had two years with Wigan, scuffed the rebound after Schwarzer had saved well from the impressive Bashkim Kadrii. Fulham’s defence, so secure in their last European campaign under Roy Hodgson, looked particularly jittery. Phillipe Senderos had already been booked for bringing down Peter Utaka and had to bailed out by Schwarzer after a mistake let the substitute through on goal, with the Australian producing a fine reaction save.
Just as the scene seemed set for a frantic finale, Johnson settled the contest on the break. With terrific composure, Johnson coolly controlled a long pass from Senderos and curled a fine finish around Wessels and into the far corner to score his sixth goal of Fulham’s Europa League campaign. Johnson’s sharp performance may give Jol something of a selection dilemma ahead of the visit of QPR – with Bobby Zamora expected to return to the side after illness.
There was still time for Malian midfielder Kalilou Traore to be sent off in added time after stamping on Damien Duff. Traore should have been dismissed twenty minutes earlier for a horrible lunge at Matthew Briggs – but remarkably received only a yellow card.
ODENSE OB (4-5-1): Wessels; Ruud, Mendy, Christensen, Reginiussen; Djemba-Djemba (Skoubo 84), Andreasen, Johansson, Traore, Kadrii (Gislason 79); Fall (Utaka 69). Subs (not used): Toppel, Sorensen, Hoegh, Laursen.
SENT OFF: Traore.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Schwarzer; Kelly, Briggs, Senderos, Hangeland; Etuhu, Murphy (Sidwell 77); Kasami (Sa 84), Dempsey, Duff; Johnson. Subs (not used): Etheridge, J.A. Riise, Baird, Grygera, Frei.
BOOKED: Etuhu, Senderos.
GOALS: Johnson (34, 88).
REFEREE: Maksim Layushkin (Russia).