Fulham somehow squandered a 2-0 lead to Odense tonight and crashed out of the Europa League at the group stage after substitute Djiby Fall scored a dramatic equaliser from the match’s last move.
Martin Jol’s men looked set fair for the win that would have guaranteed them safe passage from Group K when an opening goal from Clint Dempsey was supplemented by Kerim Frei’s fine first professional strike, but the Danes levelled after Hans Henrik Andreasen’s free-kick was followed by Fall’s finish in the third minute of stoppage time. The draw, coupled with Wisla Krakow’s win over FC Twente, saw the Whites eliminated from the competition.
It was a horrible end to Fulham’s third European odyssey. The 2010 finalists had began a gruelling schedule some fourteen games ago in late June and the journey had seen Jol rewarded for offering the likes of Frei, Matthew Briggs and Marcel Gecov chances in the first team. The absence of experienced goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer proved pivotal: debutant Neil Etheridge left a huge gap behind his wall that Andreasen located to reduce Odense’s arrears and didn’t come for Espen Ruud’s cross that Fall headed in.
There was plenty of blame to go around for that late concession though. Frei and Orlando Sa squandered the perfect opportunity to keep the ball in the corner at the Hammersmith End to see out time and Fulham were slow to re-organise, allowing Odense to put together a move of real quality. It wasn’t like the warning signs weren’t there – the visitors had come close to equalising five minutes when Rasmus Falk went on a mesmerising run down the right flank.
Jol looked crestfallen afterwards, but the truth was that Fulham had switched off thinking the hard work had been done. The Premier League side started at frenetic pace with Stefan Wessels, once of Everton, extended by a powerful Chris Baird drive and Frei firing wide after fine hold-up play from Bobby Zamora. Frei floated over an inviting corner that Brede Hangeland powered goalbound with the Norwegian’s header cleared from underneath his own crossbar by Bashkim Kadrii. The Whites went even closer when Clint Dempsey robbed Tore Reginiussen of possession, rounded Wessels and saw his finish hacked away by the covering Ruud.
Fulham finally went in front through a fine move when Frei flashed past a pair of defenders down the left and found Zamora, whose lay-off was perfect for Dempsey to drive into the corner. Four minutes later, it was 2-0. This time Frei was on the scoresheet himself, making the perfect run to reach a fine through ball from Moussa Dembele and keeping his cool to beat Wessels with a measured finish. That appeared to be that, with Odense not remotely threatening Etheridge in the entirety of the first 45 minutes.
Their first goal came out of nowhere when Andreasen curled a free-kick through the Fulham wall to Etheridge’s surprise. Replays showed an Odense player had moved the ball prior to the kick being taken, but it seemed to be academic with Fulham going closer to extending their lead – especially when Aaron Hughes sent a free header from Damien Duff’s over. But then came the catastrophic conclusion that silenced Craven Cottage save for a few hundred Danes in the Johnny Haynes stand.
FULHAM (4-4-1-1): Etheridge; Kelly, Briggs, Hughes, Hangeland; Gecov, Baird, Dempsey (Duff 72), Frei; Dembele; Zamora (Sa 89). Subs (not used): Somogyi, Riise, Senderos, Etuhu, Kasami.
GOALS: Dempsey (26), Frei (30).
ODENSE BK (4-4-2): Wessels; Ruud, Mendy (Djemba-Djemba 85), Høegh, Reginiussen; Andreasen, Sørensen, Gíslason, Kadrii (Johansson 69); Falk Jensen (Fall 78), Utaka. Subs (not used): Krog, Johansen, Larsen, Schoop.
BOOKED: Gíslason, Reginiussen.
GOALS: Andreasen (64), Fall (90+3).
REFEREE: Alon Yefet (Israel).