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Etheridge reflects on Fulham debut

Neil Etheridge has given an interview to a Filipino media outlet reflecting on his Fulham debut. While he was happy with his performance, the 21 year-old goalkeeper accepts that he was at fault for Odense’s first goal and is bitterly disappointed that Fulham’s dismal second half showing saw them eliminated from the Europa League.

I was happy with my personal performance. But it’s a team sport and we were unable to produce a result.

Their first goal was down to me, I hold my hand up. It was a mistake that went down to not having enough experience, but it won’t happen again. I learn from mistakes. [They were] quite clever and moved the ball just before they hit it.

Etheridge, who was called in for a surprise debut after Mark Schwarzer was ruled out for six weeks with a spinal injury with David Stockdale ineligible for European competition, is now likely to have to be patient as he waits for a second first-team opportunity.

To have an England international you’re competing against (Stockdale) and an excellent goal keeper like Mark Schwarzer, it’s never easy, but I’ll just have to keep my head down and keep working. Hopefully, the manager will see this and when I get the chance, I’ll take it with both hands and try to impress.

Fall sends Fulham crashing to earth

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.

BOOKED: Gecov.

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).


The compelling case for Kerim Frei

With the possible exception of the timely return of Simon Davies, the only potential positive to draw from another bleak Fulham performance on the road was the latest exciting cameo from Swiss teenager Kerim Frei. The 18 year-old is making a habit of delivering dynamic displays off the bench – leading many to ask whether he should become a more integral part of Martin Jol’s side – and his league debut at the Liberty Stadium didn’t disappoint.

Fulham’s attacking threat was almost insignificant for much of the game and the visitors only really seemed to go at Swansea once they had gone behind to Clint Dempsey’s freak own goal. Even then, much of Fulham’s play was depressingly predictable with a narrow front three of Ruiz, Dembele and Dempsey largely passing the around in front of the Swansea back four. Rarely did they break behind the Swansea defence and when they managed to plot a way through, they found Michel Vorm in outstanding form.

Frei might still be very raw but he’s a prodigious talent. We saw from his outstanding full debut at Chelsea in the League Cup earlier in the season that he possesses the pace and trickery of an old-fashioned winger despite his frail build. He’s got that confidence of youth too and has the one thing that most of Fulham’s wide players lack – the ability and desire to attack and beat a full back. Frei’s introduction for Moussa Dembele with 13 minutes to play yesterday was an attacking move from Jol (although it could have come a little sooner) and offered some genuine width that had been so apparently absent to that point.

Frei’s pace and dribbling ability frighten even the most experienced of defenders. He surprised Alex at Stamford Bridge this season and he won the penalty that might have turned this game too. The build-up to it is as instructive as the end of his run, though. Frei cuts inside from the left, where he offered far more in terms of adventure than the overlapping John Arne Riise had mustered, and takes on Ashley Williams. The defender isn’t sure which way he’s going and Frei surges past on the inside. Faced with very little room to scamper away from Jazz Richards, Frei shifts the ball and makes for the gap before being crudely brought to ground. It was a memorising run and no wonder several of his team-mates were swiftly over to the congratulate ‘the little fella,’ as Jol amiably described him.

Though you obviously have to guard against burnout with a youngster who is clearly still developing physically, Frei needs games to aid his development. He won’t get any better sitting on the bench or having the odd run-out in the reserves and he’s demonstrated the ability to really worry defenders. With Bryan Ruiz ineligible for Wednesday’s make-or-break Europa League tie against Odense, Frei should be given the freedom of Craven Cottage to carry Fulham into the next round. The little Swiss magician deserves a greater slice of first-team action. He’s certainly making a compelling case for himself.

Dembele still confident of progress

Moussa Dembele believes Fulham can still qualify for the knockout stages of the Europa League despite their late defeat by FC Twente tonight.

The Belgian forward thinks his side can beat Odense at Craven Cottage on December 14 to secure a place in the last 32 of the competition.

Everybody will work hard enough to win the final game. It’s very important to us and I think we’ll win it.

We tried to play our way and we would have been happy to take a point, but Twente had most of the game so maybe they deserved to win.

What happened at the end is a bit disappointing for us, but we’re not playing badly as a team.

Martin Jol confirmed after the game that he thinks Dembele should recover from a calf problem, which saw him substituted in the second half as a precaution, in time to face Liverpool in the Premier League on Monday night.

Etuhu happy to be back

Dickson Etuhu was delighted to return to the Fulham starting line-up and pleased to come away from a tough encounter against Odense with three precious points in the Europa League.

The Nigerian midfielder was making his first start Fulham’s 2-0 defeat by Wolves at Molineux in August after coming on as a late substitute against West Brom on Saturday. Etuhu had been sidelined with a thigh injury and hopes to keep his place for Sunday’s Premier League game against QPR.

It had been a while since I was out there. I had been injured for a bit and then found myself out of the starting XI – so it was good to be back.

Of course, it made it even better following a performance and result like that. It was tough at times, but it was good. You just want to show what you can do and hopefully that will be enough.

Etuhu was glad to help the team return to winning ways and wants the momentum to continue for the weekend’s local derby.

It had been a long time coming and it’s given us a real lift. It was good to get our first win of the group stages and we now need to take that into our next game.

That is a difficult match against QPR, but we’ll take a lot from this game. We need to start putting a few wins together now and get some momentum back. Hopefully we can do that on Sunday.

Etuhu heaped praise on Andy Johnson after the striker’s brace settled the game.

That’s what AJ gives you. He has so much quality and he took his goals really well. But that’s what he is all about. When he gets in those positions he can be deadly.

We were under a bit of pressure at times and his goals came at important moments. He gives us something that others can’t and tonight he did that, and in some fashion.

He was lively throughout and was always a threat. Every time we got on the ball he was making his run – he was always an outlet. He had a great game and was rewarded with two goals.