It’s hard to know where to start tonight. For a brief spell in the first half, Fulham were rampant and their football was spellbinding. When they raised the tempo in the first half, it looked as if Odense couldn’t live with them. Sparked by some terrific wing play from young Kerim Frei, Martin Jol’s side appeared certain to make the knockout stages of the Europa League at half-time, with a comfortable 2-0 lead. Then came one of the most shocking collapses in recent memory.
All credit to Odense. The Danish side, marooned at the bottom of the group, had nothing to play for but came out energised in the second period, attacking from the first whistle. They clearly believed that if they could get one goal, another might follow. It wasn’t long before they had an opportunity to test that conviction. Chris Baird conceded a free-kick on the edge of the box. Hans Henrik Andreasen, after shifting the ball an inch or two to the right when the referee was looking elsewhere, curled the ball between Matthew Briggs and Clint Dempsey, who were part of a poorly-constructed wall, and into the unguarded part of debutant Neil Etheridge’s net.
That wasn’t a moment in isolation either. Etheridge, who didn’t have a bad game by any means, had earlier saved superbly from winger Espen Ruud and the resultant corner provoked pinball in the Fulham ball that was most unnerving. Still, when Fulham produced a more concerted spell of pressure towards the end of the game, it looked as though they would still progress. Aaron Hughes headed over from a corner and Marcel Gecov, the promising young Czech midfielder, shot wide from the edge of the box.
Even in injury time, Martin Jol’s side had a chance to seal matters. Orlando Sa, just on as a substitute for Bobby Zamora, scampered clear, but refused to take a strike on goal as defenders chased back, opt for the corner or play in Damien Duff. Frei’s ambitious turn on the edge of the box and a limp touch from Sa surrendered possession and, with Baird and Gecov, caught up field, Odense broke quickly. Brede Hangeland stepped out of the defensive to quell the attack but failed and Eric Djemba-Djemba, who became more influential as the second half went on having been brought on to sustain the visitors’ resurgence, found Ruud down the right. With Hangeland missing and Hughes allowing Djallby Fall to get goalside, Ruud’s cross invited the substitute, who had spurned a series of golden chances in the reverse fixture, to glance Fulham out of the competition with a terrific header. There wasn’t even time to restart the game.
The disbelieving quiet as fans took in the calamitous collapse contrasted greatly with Fulham’s first half. Jol bemoaned the inexperience of players after the final whistle, but his six changes didn’t appear to have hindered their chances too much. Frei, who did fade as the match went, made the first with a terrific burst down the left and his low cross was cleverly touched back by the returning Zamora, for Clint Dempsey to crash home. The 18 year-old Swiss midfielder than scored his first goal for the club, latching onto a delicious through ball from Moussa Dembele and slipping a confident finish under Steffan Wessels. Perhaps the most disappointing thing is that Frei’s moment will forever be tarnished by what happened next. Bolton on Saturday has taken on even greater significance.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Etheridge; Kelly, Briggs, Hughes, Hangeland; Baird, Gecov; Frei, Dembele, Dempsey (Duff 72); Zamora (Sa 89). Subs (not used): Somogyi, Senderos, J.A. Riise, Etuhu, Kasami.
GOALS: Dempsey (27), Frei (31).
ODENSE BK (4-4-2): Wessels; Ruud, Hoegh, Reginiussen, Mendy (Djemba-Djemba, 85); Gislason, Andreasen, Sorensen, Kadrii (Johansson, 69); Jensen (Fall, 78), Utaka. Subs (not used): Krog, Schoop, Johanson, Larson.
BOOKED: Gislason, Reginiussen.
GOALS: Andreasen (64), Fall (90+3).
REFEREE: Alon Yefet (Israel).