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Hughes hails Crusaders

Aaron Hughes says that Crusaders should be proud of their performances over two legs against Fulham and admits that another test against an Northern Irish side would be tough.

Fulham progressed to the third qualifying round of the Europa League after a 7-1 aggregate victory, but Martin Jol’s were severely tested during a tight first leg in Belfast.

If last week’s game is anything to go by another European clash in Belfast will be another tough one for us. We expected that with them being at home and with the crowd behind them.

It’s a chance to cause an upset but we came through it and we were happy to keep a clean sheet at Craven Cottage. We’re happy to be in the next round and you have to go where the draw takes you, but it was nice for the fans to see a Premier League team in Belfast.

The Northern Ireland captain said it was crucial for Fulham to remain patient during the second leg last week as Crusaders started well.

We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy one. If we didn’t approach the game properly we knew we would come unstuck.

The important thing was to get the goals in Belfast and that gave us something to build on. They weren’t as offensive as at home and they hit us on the counter-attack a few times, creating a few openings but we stayed patient and got the goals.

Hughes admitted looked back on the two ties with a lot of pride.

It’s a reflection of the country and its people. I’m very proud of where I come from and the respect was mutual.

I think people have a lot of time for this club because we don’t take anyone for granted and we do things the right way. It’s strange because I’m usually leading out the Northern Ireland team in Belfast, but the fans have been very supportive.

Jol praises striking partnership

Martin Jol believes Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson can fire Fulham to success this season after the pair combined to great effect in tonight’s 4-0 over Crusaders.

The Johnson-Zamora axis looked to be ready to frighten teams across the Continent at this time during Fulham’s previous European campaign, only for Johnson to be cynically taken out by an Amkar Perm defender in the play-off round of the Europa League. The former England forward has only just got back to full sharpness after a succession of injuries interrupted his campaign last term and Jol has been impressed with the way the pair have resumed their partnership.

Even if you have got a tough defence you know you can score goals. Last year Bobby was of course injured and Andy was the same, he only had 16 starts. So we had some trouble with injuries and luckily enough we had [Clint] Dempsey and he was our top scorer.

I feel there is a lot more goals in Andy Johnson. Every game when I see him he is quick and he can score goals. I think he has scored three goals already and that is what you want, not the two goals last year.

He was not satisfied and that was probably because of his injuries and now hopefully we can keep them fit. If you saw Bobby in the first half, if he is in the flow he is a very good target.

Jol was satisfied with his side’s overall performance.

You always want to play perfect football and of course the first half we started well. The first half an hour I thought was good. Good movement, movement and everybody was involved.

After that there were a few sloppy spells and that is not what you want. But the second half was okay and of course we had to substitute a few players because we have 17 or 18 players who want to be involved.

Overall, if you saw the goals, for example, the first goal had many touches and the second goal was thanks to a Philippe Senderos pass. Then there was one from Damien Duff so each goal was scored totally differently. And the goal Bobby scored was probably the best one of the evening.

Four-star Fulham crush Crusaders

Fulham cruised into the third qualifying round of the Europa League with a 4-0 second leg victory over a spirited Crusaders side at Craven Cottage. The 7-1 aggregate win sees Fulham travel to Croatia next week for the first leg of their third round qualifier against RNK Split, who booked their place with a 5-2 aggregate win over Domzale.

Martin Jol selected a strong side for the second leg and it proved a wise decision as Crusaders frustrated the Premier League with a display full of grit and resolute defending. New signing John Arne Riise was handed his debut at left back, greeted by ironic chants of ‘Mummy’s Boy’ from those members of the Hammersmith End choir with particularly long memories. This meant Matthew Briggs, who scored his first Fulham goal last week, had more opportunities to get forward from the left side of midfield, and the youngster looked lively early on, creating the Whites’ first chance. The England under-20 international burst through the centre of midfield and teed up Andy Johnson, who shot disappointingly straight at the goalkeeper.

The visitors played some attractive football and certainly weren’t afraid of throwing players forward. They carved out a couple of half chances, the best of which fell to striker Timmy Adamson, who climbed above Brede Hangeland but nodded Ciaran Gargan’s cross wide. They were soon to pay for that lack of composure in front of goal as Fulham took the lead with a counter attack of real quality. Brede Hangeland collected possession midway through the Fulham half and swept a glorious pass into the path of John Arne Riise, who was galloping down the left. Bobby Zamora cleverly dummied the Norwegian’s low cross, allowing Johnson to finish with aplomb from ten yards out.

Zamora’s presence and movement were causing real problems for Crues. He pulled away from his marker only to tamely head straight at Sean O’Neill, before a clever one-two with Steve Sidwell saw the former Reading midfielder, who enjoyed a nearly faultless evening, scuff his shot wide when clean through on goal. Sidwell, seemingly making the most of a license to roam from the centre of the park, had earlier rippled the side-netting after being found by a precise Johnson cross. The visitors’ dogged defending kept the second-leg deficit to a respectable one at half-time, but Fulham’s superior sharpness told in the second period.

Sidwell spurned two good chances to double the lead just after the break. O’Neill gathered his soft close-range header from a Duff free-kick, but the far post came to the aid of the Crusaders’ goalkeeper when Sidwell popped up at the back post as his header clipped the woodwork and trickled wide. It was left to Duff himself to apply the finishing touch as he raced onto a terrific through ball from Philippe Senderos. The chance appeared to have gone as Duff’s first touch took him wide, but the Republic of Ireland winger squeezed his shot inside the far corner effortlessly.

Fulham were rampant now. Ten minutes later, a well-worked third goal arrived. Johnson ran at the ragged Crusaders defence and Duff allowed his cross to run through to an unmarked Zamora, who hammered home gleefully. Sidwell finally grabbed his well-deserved goal just before he was substituted, guiding home a Duff corner from inside the six-yard box. There was time for eye-catching cameos from two of Fulham’s substitutes too. Bjorn-Helge Riise almost made an instant impact after replacing his brother, curling a 20-yard piledriver fractionally wide. Swiss starlet Kerim Frei built on his impressive display of a week ago with a brief display of eager running and confidence. It merited a goal, but the 17 year-old was denied by two brave blocks from Crusaders defenders.

FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Hughes, J.A. Riise (B.H. Riise 76), Senderos, Hangeland; Murphy, Sidwell (Etuhu 71), Duff, Briggs; Zamora, Johnson (Frei 71). Subs (not used): Etheridge, Kelly, Baird, Trotta.

GOALS: Johnson (19), Duff (56), Zamora (66), Sidwell (70).

CRUSADERS (4-4-2): O’Neill; McKeown, McBride, Leeman, Magowan; McCann (Faulkner 86), Watson, Gargan, Dallas; Adamson (Halliday 84), Owens (Rainey 68). Subs (not used): Murphy, McMaster, Gibson, Roy.

REFEREE: Marios Stamatis (Cyprus).

ATTENDANCE: 15,676.

Up next: Crusaders (h)

Tonight’s second leg at Craven Cottage should be intriguing. Crusaders provided Fulham with a much sterner test than some expected last week in Belfast and, but for some fortunate breaks in the last quarter, the Whites could have been facing a far from straightforward task tonight.

Martin Jol will continue his build up to the new league campaign by picking a relatively strong side this evening. He seems confident that Fulham will score plenty of goals, but will hope for a more convincing performance in the second leg. With Carlos Salcido seemingly edging closer towards the exit door, John Arne Riise will be keen to impress on his competitive debut for the club. The Norwegian played an hour of the pre-season defeat at Stevenage last weekend and has been passed fit to start this evening. Omitting Matthew Briggs, who marked a strong first-leg performance with a brilliant opening goal, is very harsh on the youngster, however.

Midfield provides Jol with a few selection headaches. Kerim Frei looked full of running at Seaview and has impressed during his pre-season outings with the reserves. In the continuing absence of Clint Dempsey – currently being rested after his busy summer with the American national side – the 17 year-old could be line to reprise his exploits down the left flank. Plenty of comparisons have been made between Frei and Steed Malbranque and you can certainly see the likeness: both are nippy, confident midfielders who enjoy running with the ball. A better comparison, however, would link Frei with Duff, who is likely to line up on the opposite flank. Media reports have suggested that Stephen Kelly, perhaps rivalling Chris Baird as the new utility man, could start in midfield, although Bjorn Helge Riise would hope to join his brother in the starting line-up.

Whether we’ll see anything of new signing Marcel Gecov remains to be seen. This is the one signing so far that points to Jol’s preference for younger, hungry players. Perhaps the symbolism of the young Czech midfielder signing shortly after the departure of Jonathan Greening to Nottingham Forest indicates where we are going. As Rich has pointed out, Hodgson had a prevalence for older, experienced, dependable players. I think Greening will be a loss, he certainly demonstrated terrific crossing ability out wide, but probably couldn’t be guaranteed the level of first-team football he wanted at this stage in his career. Gecov will certainly give Dickson Etuhu a run for his money in central midfield.

Bobby Zamora notched his first goal of the new campaign in Belfast last week. Zamora’s look a little rusty in his run-outs so far and it was good to see his instinctive header find the net at a crucial time in the first leg. In the absence of the injured Moussa Dembele, it seems as if Zamora and Johnson is the preferred partnership. Johnson’s movement caused problems for Crusaders in the first game, but it’s also interesting to note that Jol seems to have rowed back from his earlier statements regarding our striking options. With Dalla Valle and Trotta soon to be heading out on loan to gain experience, Jol now accepts that the club will need a new centre forward. Both AJ and Zamora will see tonight as a golden opportunity to demonstrate their sharpness.

MY FULHAM XI (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Baird, J.A. Riise, Hughes, Hangeland; Etuhu, Murphy, Duff, Frei; Zamora, Johnson. Subs: Etheridge, Kelly, Senderos, Sidwell, Donegan, B.H. Riise, Dalla Valle.