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On this day in 1976, George Best scores 77 seconds into his Fulham debut

George Best’s return to English football in the late summer of 1976 caused a sensation. The fact that he was signing for Second Division Fulham was something of a surprise. There was no doubt that the mercurial Northern Ireland winger was not the player that mesmerised defenders and crowds alike during his glorious decade at Manchester United – he was undoubtedly slower and shorn of game time – but he had lost none of the characteristic swagger.

Best certainly brought the crowds back to Craven Cottage. More than 21,000 fans packed into Fulham’s historic home to see him make his first appearance for the club in a Second Division meeting with Bristol Rovers. The home side certainly had some star quality, with England’s World Cup winning captain Bobby Moore at the heart of the defence, and Rodney Marsh, who had also returned from America, beginning a second spell at the club. It took Best just 77 seconds to steal the show, scoring the only goal of a game and making a dream start to his spell in south west London.

Best’s Fulham career was short and sweet. There were moments of magic – like a glorious 30-yard volley against Peterborough United in the League Cup and when he tackled Marsh during a victory over Hereford – and madness, such as his sending off at Southampton that sparked the beginning of the end and the fines that followed his absences from training. He did return from a spell out of the side to inspire a fine 3-1 win against Chelsea to ease Fulham’s relegation worries, but he returned to the United States after a fitful third season with the club.

Harrison leaves Fulham running out of Gas

August is fast becoming a month of disappointments for Slavisa Jokanovic. The Serbian coach’s furrowed brow at the final whistle said it all after Ellis Harrison’s first half strike proved enough for League One Bristol Rovers to send Fulham crashing out of the Carabao Cup at the second round stage – and leave the questions piling up for the Whites ahead of Saturday’s trip to in-form Ipswich Town.

Harrison’s timing was impeccable as this was his first Rovers goal away from the Memorial Stadium since he scored in Fulham in the same competition last season – against Chelsea. The lively forward, a menace all evening, kept his composure after collecting a clever reverse pass from the excellent Liam Sercombe to go through on goal, rounded a helpless Marcus Bettinelli and slid the simplest of finishes into an empty net. The former Exeter and Oxford skipper was clearly three yards offside when he surged onto a Chris Lines pass to continue a swift Rovers counter-attack, but the flag stayed down and the visitors profited.

This was far from a smash and grab raid from Darrell Clarke’s impressive side who fully merited their victory. Billy Bodin might have made it two when he bundled past Tayo Edun and into the box but miscued his strike and captain Tom Lockyer squandered a great chance from a corner just before the break when, after a bout of pinball in the Fulham area, his powerful shot was repelled by a fine reaction save from Bettinelli, who should have been given little chance from point-blank range.

Fulham, who changed their eleven entirely after Saturday’s first defeat of the campaign against Sheffield Wednesday, made little impression in the first period. The disappointing Neeskens Kebano, who did little to suggest that Jokanovic had been wrong to use him only as an impact player in the opening games of the season, sent a low cross towards the back post from a promising position but Lee Brown cleared the danger under pressure from Aboubakar Kamara, who was too often isolated up front – but also opted for intricacy instead of precision when the openings presented themselves.

The home side were restricted to hopeful efforts from distance by a disciplined and well-organised Gas defence. Liverpool loanee Sheyi Ojo sent one skidding wide from just outside the box on his Fulham debut, whilst Oliver Norwood – who laboured in a deep-lying playmaking role at the base of the midfield – saw a deflected side easily fielded by Sam Slocombe right on the stroke of half-time.

Fulham found more energy and carried a greater threat after the interval but couldn’t turn their plentiful possession and pressure into more clear-cut chances. Kebano fashioned the first opening for himself, cutting inside onto his right foot from the left angle of the box, but drove a rather tame effort straight at Slocombe when he could have shot across the goalkeeper. Young Matt O’Riley and Kamara saw efforts blocked at source, whilst referee Dean Whitestone inexplicably failed to card Ryan Sweeney for raising his hands to the French forward and pushing him over inside the box after an off-the-ball scuffle.

The visitors might have made the game safe when substitute Rory Gaffney sent Tom Nichols haring through on goal with a delightful outside of the foot through ball that represented his first touch after replacing the goalscorer Harrison. Gaffney got to the ball before Bettinelli, but the Fulham goalkeeper – making his long-awaited first start of the season after recovering from a hamstring injury – made himself big and got a vital touch to the ball with his body after advancing outside the box and Nichols was eventually crowded out.

Jokanovic sent on Ryan Sessegnon for the final ten minutes as Fulham finally put the Rovers goal under some concerted pressure, but the visitors held firm. Kamara bundled his way through a host of physical challenges and through sheer persistence found Kebano in the box, but the Congolese winger’s venomous shot clear the crossbar. It was Kamara who wasted the best chance at the death – sending a free header from Kebano’s cross agonisingly wide of the far post in stoppage time.

FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; S. Sessegnon, Edun (R. Sessegnon 81), Madl, Djalo; Norwood, Cisse, O’Riley; Ojo, Kebano, Kamara. Subs (not used): Button, Odoi, Kalas, McDonald, R. Fonte.

BRISTOL ROVERS (4-3-3): Slocombe; Bola, Brown, Lockyer, Sweeney; Lines, Sercombe, Sinclair; Bodin (Nichols 61), Moore (Broom 81), Harrison (Gaffney 68). Subs (not used): Andre, Burn, Telford, Broadbent.

BOOKED: Gaffney, Slocombe, Sweeney.

REFEREE: Dean Whitestone


Etheridge joins Bristol Rovers on loan

Fulham goalkeeper Neil Etheridge joined Bristol Rovers on a month’s loan.

The Philippines international, who has already won 37 senior caps for his country, was a trainee with Chelsea before joining Fulham’s academy in 2006. The 22 year-old made his full debut for Fulham in their Europa League draw with Odense last season. Etheridge has yet to make a league appearance in English football but picked up valuable senior experience whilst on loan at Leatherhead.

Etheridge was loaned out to Charlton Athletic in March 2011 but was recalled after six days following an injury crisis at Craven Cottage. The highly-rated young goalkeeper is contracted to Fulham until the end of this season.

Fulham crash out on penalties

Fulham’s frustrating season went from bad to worse in the pouring rain at the Memorial Ground. Having somewhere scraped a replay from the original tie at Craven Cottage, Roy Hodgson’s strugglers were knocked out of the FA Cup on penalties by a Bristol Rovers side some 41 places below them in the league pyramid. Rovers, managed by former Fulham midfielder Paul Trollope, progress to a fourth round tie against Swindon.

This dire shoot-out defeat took Fulham’s miserable run to thirteen games without a win and will have done nothing for morale at the London club. No amount of tinkering with the team could inject some much-needed creativity, even though Hodgson gave Jimmy Bullard his first start in sixteen months alongside Wayne Brown, who made his first-team debut in central midfield.

Fulham struggled to adapt to the difficult conditions, frequently surrendering possession to the home side on a poor surface, and were indebted to Tony Warner for keeping them in the tie. Poor defending meant Fulham’s reserve goalkeeper was called into action on several ocassions like when he made a terrific reaction save from David Pipe. Pipe will think he should have done better from just six yards out but Warner flung himself across goal to save after Chris Lines had burst clear down the left flank.

Andrew Williams was next to go close, reacting quickest to a clever flick from the dangerous Richard Lambert, but having escaped the attentions of his marker, Williams’ shot was rather tame and Warner gratefully gathered ball without too much trouble. It would have alarmed the perfectionist Hodgson that his defence were allowing Rovers so much possession, especially as the midfield looked rather powder-puff.

Bullard’s speculative effort from 25 yards was really all the Premier League side could muster by way of a chance and their goal was continuing to lead something of a charmed life. Chris Baird was in the right place at the right time to clear off the line from Lines, whilst David Healy’s smart turn and shot provided a rare chance for Fulham at the other end.

With the stalemate still not broken as we passed ninety minutes, extra-time briefly enlivened proceedings. Lambert found himself free enough to fire goalwards but found the side netting with a fierce drive and Fulham’s most fluent move of the match fashioned a chance for Clint Dempsey. Seol Ki-Hyeon played the ball into his path and the American’s well-struck shot was magnificently palmed away by the diving Steve Phillips. That the home goalkeeper’s first real save came deep in extra-time told you all needed to know about the dynamic of the contest.

Fulham were reduced to ten men in the final seconds of extra time as Stefanovic correctly saw red after hauling down Lines to earn a second yellow card. Worse was to come. Bullard’s poor penalty was simply saved by Phillips and Craig Disley strode forward to stroke home the winning spot-kick. Joy unconfined at the Memorial Ground.

BRISTOL ROVERS (4-4-2): Phillips; Lescott, Jacobson, Hinton, Elliott (Disley 21); Campbell, Coles, Pipe, Lines; Williams (Rigg 97), Lambert. Subs (not used): Igoe, Walker, Carruthers.

FULHAM (4-4-2): Warner; Baird, Bocanegra, Hughes, Stefanovic; Brown (Seol 90), Bullard, Volz, Konchesky; Dempsey, Healy. Subs (not used): Batista, Leijer, Davis, Milsom.

BOOKED: Stefanovic.

SENT OFF: Stefanovic (119).

REFEREE: Martin Atkinson (West Yorkshire).