Two fantastic finishes from Andy Johnson fired Fulham to a fine win over Wisla Krakow and put them within touching distance of reaching the knockout stages of the Europa League.
Fulham, determined to make up for their disappointing reverse in Poland a couple of weeks ago that was marred by a controversial red card for Moussa Dembele, were clinical in front of goal and devastating in some of their approach play as they entertained a lively Craven Cottage crowd, which included more than a fair smattering of Polish supporters. Martin Jol opted to play a strong side and it was one of his midfielders who hasn’t seen much game time of late – Damien Duff – who seized his opportunity to shine.
The Republic of Ireland winger has been omitted in favour of Dembele in recent weeks but looked hunger to prove a point this evening and was full of eager running from the off. The former Blackburn and Newcastle man had the game’s first chance when he drew a top-drawer save from Sergei Pareiko with a curling effort from the edge of the box. It didn’t take long for Duff to make his impact, though. He started and finished a flowing fifth minute move that gave the home side a deserved early lead. Duff rolled a neat pass into Bobby Zamora, who released Johnson down the Fulham right, and Duff burst into the penalty area, to finish flawlessly without breaking stride.
If the Fulham fans felt they were going to be in for an easy night after that, they reckoned without Wisla’s commendable powers of recovery. A mistake from Dickson Etuhu lost possession and Fulham stood off David Biton, who scored in the reverse fixture, who played in Lukasz Gargula. Gargula’s clever touch found Andraz Kirm and the Slovenian’s low shot cannoned off John Arne Riise and past a stranded Mark Schwarzer.
The frantic start continued as Fulham thought they’d immediately restored their advantage with their very next attack. Johnson pounced to steer home the rebound after Pareiko only parried Duff’s drive, but the assistant referee’s flag ruled it out. Those celebrations – sparked by the premature announcement of the goal by David Hamilton – might have been shortlived but Johnson was gleefully acclaiming an altogether more spectacular finish by the 30th minute. A succession of Fulham corners had tested the Wisla defence, before it finally caved in. Danny Murphy returned a half-cleared corner to the each of the box, where Johnson met it with the most majestic of volleys that flew in off the post.
Fulham more than merited their lead after Duff and Riise had both gone close with efforts from just inside the box, although Wisla always looked dangerous on the break. Kirm shot over from a very good position as the Fulham defence parted in front of him, but Clint Dempsey was inches away from recreating his memorable Juventus chip as an audacious lob beat a helpless Pareiko but skimmed the top of the crossbar. The game wasn’t without a fiery side either: Bobby Zamora and Kew Jaliens were shown yellow cards after squaring up to each other, the pantomime villain Gervasio Nunez rolled around on the floor again and the Wisla fans set off a smoke bomb that engulfed the Johnny Haynes Stand.
The visitors began the second half with plenty of gusto and the influential Gargula found plenty of space in front of Fulham’s defence. Schwarzer made two sharp saves to preserve the home side’s lead: one from a deflected Nunez effort and then a smart diving save from Gargula’s curling free-kick. Just as the Poles were looking threatening, they were punished for switching off at a set-piece. Murphy tapped it quickly to Zamora, whose clever flick found Johnson inside the six-yard box and he lifted it beyond the grounded Pareiko.
Substitute Steve Sidwell gave Fulham additional breathing space soon after replacing Murphy. His first header from a dangerous Duff cross was repelled by a combination of Pareiko and the bar, but the midfielder made no mistake with the follow-up, lashing the rebound high into the net. Jaliens headed against a post moments later, but Fulham could have finished with further goals. Kerim Frei looked bright into a brief cameo and Pareiko pulled off a superb save to deny Pajtim Kasami a fifth.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Kelly, J.A. Riise, Hangeland, Baird; Etuhu, Murphy (Sidwell 62), Duff, Dempsey; Zamora (Frei 71), Johnson (Kasami 75). Subs (not used): Etheridge, Briggs, Grygera, Gecov.
BOOKED: Etuhu, Zamora.
GOALS: Duff (5), Johnson (30, 57), Sidwell (79).
WISLA KRAKOW (4-2-3-1): Pareiko; Lamey, Junior Diaz, Jaliens, Brud (Illiev 59); Nunez, Wilk; Gargula (Genkov 60), Paljic, Kirm; Biton (Jovanovic 87). Subs (not used): Jovanic, Kurto, Boguski, Czekaj.
BOOKED: Jaliens, Diaz, Paljic.
GOAL: Kirm (9).
REFEREE: Halis Ozkahya (Turkey).