It all went wrong in the closing minutes in Enschede tonight. Fulham, who had played fitfully throughout, were edging closer to a vital point in their quest to accompany FC Twente into the last 32 of the Europa League when one defensive mistake and another moment of madness dealt a serious blow to their hopes of reaching the knockout stages of the competition. Substitute Marc Janko poked home from close range when left unattended by Brede Hangeland and Stephen Kelly in the last minute of the ninety, before – to add insult to injury – top scorer Andy Johnson was stupidly sent off for kicking the ball away.
It all means that Fulham will need to beat Odense on December 14 at Craven Cottage to be sure of making out of the group stages and they will have to do without Johnson, who is one of the major reasons Martin Jol’s side were in such a strong position prior to tonight. The 30 year-old, out of contract at the end of the season, toiled manfully as a largely redundant partner for Bobby Zamora before playing for most of the second half as an auxiliary right winger but his reaction to being penalised for an injury-time foul could prove very costly indeed.
Jol’s side would have been happy to leave his homeland with a point as Twente, despite having already qualified from Group K, showed little signs of lethargy. They protected a proud unbeaten home record that stretches back to last November and looked far more adventurous in a desperately dull first half. Nacer Chadli, reportedly a target for Fulham during the summer, was the early threat down the Twente left in a fluid 4-3-3, giving the returning Stephen Kelly a stern test at right back. After sending an early low shot straight at Mark Schwarzer, the young Belgian winger burst past Kelly and sped into the box before again finding Schwarzer’s midriff with his attempt on goal.
Fulham’s midfield struggled to cope with Twente’s numerical advantage and endeavour. Schwarzer needed to be alert to hold a drive from Leroy Fer from twenty yards out after the impressive Luuk de Jong had fed the midfielder with a clever lay-off. Aaron Hughes’ positioning prevented the tall striker from profiting from a quick Twente break and the overlapping full-back Roberto Rosales had a shot deflected wide. Such was the desperate manner of Fulham’s defending that John Arne Riise had to produce a superb saving tackle to prevent Chadli from giving the home side the lead just before the break.
Fulham didn’t muster a single shot in the first half – the closest they came to an opening was when a superb through ball from Danny Murphy released Johnson, but the goalkeeper Nikolay Mihaylov sprinted off his line to intercept. Jol had been forced into a reorganisation midway through the first half when Damien Duff suffered a recurrence of the calf injury that had kept him out of the draw at Arsenal. Swiss teenager Kerim Frei was mightily impressive as his replacement, particularly as the game opened up in the second half, but Fulham’s performance was more about steely resilience, exemplified once again by the excellent Dickson Etuhu.
The second half followed a similar pattern. Half-time substitute Ola John, the younger brother of former Fulham striker Collins John, made a real difference down the left for Twente, with his pass and accurate crossing. One deep delivery almost found de Jong, who was denied a clear header at goal by the covering Riise. Swedish international Emir Bajrami sent a long-range effort agonisingly wide, before Chadli – who faded as the game went on – drove ambitiously over from more than 30 yards out. Perhaps frustrated by the wastefulness of his forwards, Brazilian Douglas, who brilliantly nullified Zamora with a defensive masterclass, strode imperiously forward from centre back but skied his shot.
Frei fashioned an opening out of nothing, scampering past Twente defenders having picked up the ball in his own half. The Swiss teenager dribbled to the edge of the box before releasing Moussa Dembele, who looked as though he may have been caught by Peter Wisgerhof in the box. Fulham had further chances as the game swung from end-to-end. First, Johnson miscued his shot horribly wide after a Stephen Kelly pass had been diverted into his path by Douglas and, from a cleverly worked Murphy free-kick, Zamora poked a shot just wide from 10 yards.
Twente squandered openings of their own. De Jong, a threat in the air all night, spurned the best of them when he glanced a John cross inexplicably wide from nine yards as Fulham pushed up for offside. Rosales and de Jong then got in each other’s way after John had checked inside of Johnson to deliver another fine cross, but Fulham couldn’t cling on for a point. Bajrami engineered a bit of space for himself in central midfield, found the marauding Rosales down the right and the Venezuelan’s cross bisected Hangeland and Kelly to leave Janko with the simplest of tasks from four yards out. Fulham have plenty of work to do to extend their European adventure beyond December.
FC TWENTE (4-3-3): Mihaylov; Rosales, Tiendalli, Douglas, Wisgerhof; Brama, Landzaat, Fer (O. John 45); Bajrami, de Jong, Chadli (Janko 79). Subs (not used): Marsman, Cornelisse, Bengtsson, Buysse, Gouriye.
GOAL: Janko (89).
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Kelly, J.A. Riise, Hughes, Hangeland; Etuhu, Murphy, Dembele (Kasami 83), Duff (Frei 34); Zamora (Sa 83), Johnson. Subs (not used): Etheridge, Senderos, Briggs, Gecov.
SENT OFF: Johnson.
REFEREE: Marijo Strahonja (Croatia).