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Jol lauds lethal AJ

Martin Jol reserved special praise for Andy Johnson’s finishing prowess after the striker’s brace secured a 2-0 win for Fulham in Odense tonight.

The 30 year-old started the Europa League tie as Fulham’s lone striker after Bobby Zamora and Moussa Dembele were left behind in London to recover from their illness and Orlando Sa was only fit enough to start on the bench. Johnson grabbed his opportunity to impress, scoring his fifth and sixth goals of the season, to help Fulham end a nine-match winless streak. Jol was delighted with Johnson’s sharpness in front of goal:

If you’re 1-0 up you’re not really nervous, but 1-0 is 1-0. They could have scored five minutes before the end, so it’s always good to have someone like Andy who scores a second goal and then the pressure is off.

Sometimes you need to be given opportunities. But then the second goal wasn’t even an opportunity, it was unbelievable. The ball was sky high and his first touch was perfect. Maybe he didn’t think about it, but that’s probably why it was an amazing goal.

Jol was delighted with the three points but felt Fulham had been steadily improving in recent weeks.

I don’t think there will be another match in the past where we would have created more chances than at West Brom. We had 60% possession in the first-half there, so it’s only a matter of putting those chances in the net. What Andy did in the first-half for example – out of nothing – that is a good striker.

The Fulham manager remains undecided on whether Johnson will lead the line against QPR on Sunday, although the former England international’s performance couldn’t have harmed his chances.

I’ll have to make a decision on that. Bobby Zamora scored against Man City, and he scored against Blackburn as well. Against Man City he set up the second goal too, so it’s always a matter of making a decision. But I’m 100% certain that if I do start Andy he won’t let anybody down, because he’s a true professional. He always plays with his heart, and I don’t think you can say that with all the professionals in football.

Jol was critical of some of Fulham’s wastefulness in front of goal – thinking they should have had a greater half-time cushion cushion than Johnson’s speculative 36th minute strike.

We didn’t do particularly well in the first-half. We created five or six chances, but they had four chances as well. So we were caught between thoughts. Their two strikers were too high up, we couldn’t screen, they played too wingers so we couldn’t press in the midfield and then they started to play around us at times. So we changed that and then they had the same problem as we had.

But we know we are a good defensive side. We just need to take our opportunities better. There were some situations when we caught them on the break, four against three, and still lost the ball ourselves, so there are a lot of things to work on.

Odense BK v Fulham – Player Ratings

Not a great performance and we certainly didn’t continue our impressive play of our previous two and a half games but our team are good enough to beat Odense while not at our best. I as suprised at the strength of our team, was probably our strongest available  – we were missing Zamora, Ruiz and Dembele of course – other than the full backs (although that’s under question on both sides) and Sidwell. In a way I was disappointed not to see Gecov or Frei at all during the game but we got a win, our first in a while, and that is wonderful to see. Good away win against a team which can cause problems, beating Villareal for example in their last home game, no injuries assuming Briggs fully recovered from that tackle and relatively little energy expunged, all in all it was solid. Win our next two home games and we should be sorted for the group I think.

Schwarzer – 7, alright I’ve been getting a bit of slack for underrating Schwarzer so maybe I do judge keepers too harshly, usually I’d give a performance like this a 6.5. Anyway pulled off two superb stops, the one from Fall in the first half was sensational. Otherwise he was never tested from crosses and never had to sweep up behind the defence so wasn’t really too troubled over the 90 minutes other than the stops he made. Distribution wasn’t particuarly poor or impressive.

Senderos – 5, I’ve been bigging him up recently but today he was really quite poor. Slipped three or four times in with potentially disastrous concequences but fortunately for him and us there was a goalie, gold shirt or yellow card in the way. Other than that he didn’t make any remarkable clearances or tackles. Senderos picked up an assist too which I won’t give him credit for but he did look up and spot Johnson to play the long ball in his direction which I thought was neat.

Hangeland – 6.5, like Senderos had a fairly sloppy game but stood up strong when he needed too, making some good clearing headers and blocks while we were under pressure. Never really used the ball like he normally does, and while some might point to the through ball for Briggs in the first half I thought it was an average ball which was made good by the right back switching off.

Briggs – 6, didn’t really see too many of those surging runs forward that we know he can make, and I can only remember one on the ball which he should have made more of when almost at the byline but his cutback was poor, but was good as usual with the ball in tight situations. I like his flair from left back, it gives us a different attacking outlet, and an example of that was the nice little flick inside when he got vicuously tackled by Traore. Defensively I thought he was quite solid tonight other than being guilty of being too central a couple of times in the first half which were almost costly.

Kelly – 6.5, …who’s slack marking gave Kadrii alot of time and space to put the ball back into a dangerous area from those two far post crosses. Apart from that though his defending was pretty good, with a few key sliding challenges and blocks. Didn’t really give the ball away although I can’t remember a cross or meaningful action in their final third.

Murphy – 5.5, was very poor overall, giving the ball away numerous times inexplicably and mis-hitting long passes which could have caused Odense trouble. Improved in the second half to be fair and started to get into the swing of things but was then replaced by Sidwell. Wouldn’t have played him personally, like I said I would have preferred to have seen Gecov get another chance.

Etuhu – 5.5, first start for a while and to be fair to him he is getting back into the swing of things after recovering from injury but he was bypassed too often really, not closing down when he could have done (why was he so far from Djemba Djemba so often?), couple of dodgy clearances from long throw-ins. His passing didn’t let him down though which is one issue Fulham fans really have with him and he did make a couple of good intelligent runs into the Odense box but defensively not very good really.

Kasami – 5.5, saw alot of the ball in dangerous positions and credit to him for that but his final ball or decision making when a scoring chance could have been created was dreadful. Really was poor, and that’s uncharacteristic  from someone who’s crossing is usually very impressive. His decision making has always been a bit up and down to be fair but he’s only 19 and he will learn from that. Would have played Frei ahead of him but if only to see Frei get some more minutes, not as a refelction on Kasami.

Duff – 6, didn’t attack defenders much at all or put in devestating crosses but made one very good run on his weaker foot across the box and overall had a solid game. His energy levels really are phenomenal, he approaches every game with equal intensity.

Dempsey – 6.5, had some bright moments but shot from distance way too much in the first half. Caused problems for the Odense defence though, and just on perseverence and quick thought alone did well to set up Johnson for his first, plus he worked hard for the midfield.

Johnson – 8, the stand out Fulham man today, scoring the two goals to take us to victory. The first was good, a neat touch when he collected it onto his right foot before striking it low, and while he hit it well the goalkeeper must take the blame I think. The second was superb, wonderfully collecting the ball from out of the sky first time into space and onto his favoured foot in a good position after Senderos’ long clearance, giving him the opportunity to wait, play mind games with the keeper before very nicely curling the ball around him. An excellent goal. Beside them his running into wide positions was tireless and he fizzed in a couple of dangerous balls. After falling out of favour recently it should give him alot of confidence. A couple of nice stats came out of that game too; the first is that Fulham’s never lost when he’s scored and the second is that AJ is now the leading scorer in Europe with 6 from 10 games.

~Subs~

Sidwell – 6, I think that we struggled to keep possession as well when Murphy came off for Sidwell, as I say Murphy was starting to control the game, but he did alright. Nothing really to say.

Sa – N/A, wasn’t on for long and didn’t see much of the ball although was setting up to shoot after a neat run in to the box which could have been interesting if it weren’t for a timely challenge.

AJ at the double

No Bobby Zamora, no Moussa Dembele. No problem. Martin Jol shouldn’t have worried – because two predatory strikes from Andy Johnson secured a much-needed win in Odense ahead of Sunday’s local derby against QPR.

Johnson’s Fulham career has been full of injury lay-offs and false dawns, with his body seemingly failing just as he looked set to get into his stride. The 30 year-old might be shorn of the blistering pace with which he announced himself onto the Premier League stage with Crystal Palace some six years ago, but he’s still a force to reckoned with in front of goal. His brace papered over the cracks of an edgy Fulham performance but ended a worrying run of nine games without a win for Jol’s side.

Johnson toiled for much of the evening as a lone striker, but came alive when in sight of the Odense eighteen yard box. His first goal arrived just as the home side were beginning to put the Londoners under some pressure towards the end of the first half. It owed plenty to Clint Dempsey’s persistence as the American rode two challenges to feed Johnson on the left wing. The former England striker glided into the penalty area and drove his shot through Stefan Wessels and into the far corner, although the ex-Everton goalkeeper will feel he should have kept it out.

Fulham’s lead was more than merited after a bright start with Dempsey seeing a shot blocked by Tore Reginiussen and a header cleared off the line by former Manchester United midfielder Eric Djemba-Djemba, but the home side had good openings themselves. After settling a lot later than Jol’s side, Odense belied their poor domestic form in a competitive and spirited display. On another day, powerful Senegalese striker Djiby Fall could have had a hat-trick. He was denied from eight yards by a superb sprawling save from Mark Schwarzer, sent a spectacular volley inches wide and skied a sidefooted finish high over the bar just before the break.

Odense began the second half in the same vein and carried a real threat to the Fulham goal. Djemba-Djemba sent one of a succession of hopeful long-distance strikes over the crossbar before Andreas Johansson, who had two years with Wigan, scuffed the rebound after Schwarzer had saved well from the impressive Bashkim Kadrii. Fulham’s defence, so secure in their last European campaign under Roy Hodgson, looked particularly jittery. Phillipe Senderos had already been booked for bringing down Peter Utaka and had to bailed out by Schwarzer after a mistake let the substitute through on goal, with the Australian producing a fine reaction save.

Just as the scene seemed set for a frantic finale, Johnson settled the contest on the break. With terrific composure, Johnson coolly controlled a long pass from Senderos and curled a fine finish around Wessels and into the far corner to score his sixth goal of Fulham’s Europa League campaign. Johnson’s sharp performance may give Jol something of a selection dilemma ahead of the visit of QPR – with Bobby Zamora expected to return to the side after illness.

There was still time for Malian midfielder Kalilou Traore to be sent off in added time after stamping on Damien Duff. Traore should have been dismissed twenty minutes earlier for a horrible lunge at Matthew Briggs – but remarkably received only a yellow card.

ODENSE OB (4-5-1): Wessels; Ruud, Mendy, Christensen, Reginiussen; Djemba-Djemba (Skoubo 84), Andreasen, Johansson, Traore, Kadrii (Gislason 79); Fall (Utaka 69). Subs (not used): Toppel, Sorensen, Hoegh, Laursen.

BOOKED: Traore.

SENT OFF: Traore.

FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Schwarzer; Kelly, Briggs, Senderos, Hangeland; Etuhu, Murphy (Sidwell 77); Kasami (Sa 84), Dempsey, Duff; Johnson. Subs (not used): Etheridge, J.A. Riise, Baird, Grygera, Frei.

BOOKED: Etuhu, Senderos.

GOALS: Johnson (34, 88).

REFEREE: Maksim Layushkin (Russia).

ATTENDANCE: 6,500.

Odense v Fulham: Team News

ODENSE: Wessels; Ruud, Moller Christensen, Reginiussen, Mendy, Andreasen, Johannson, Traore, Djemba-Djemba, Kadrii, Fall. Subs: Toppel, Chris Sorensen, Larsen, Hoegh, Utaka, Skoubo, Gislason.

FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Schwarzer; Kelly, Briggs, Hangeland, Senderos; Etuhu, Murphy; Duff, Kasami, Dempsey; Johnson. Subs: Etheridge, J. A. Riise, Baird, Grygera, Sidwell, Frei, Sa.

REFEREE: Maksim Layushkin (Russia).

Zamora and Dembele stay at home

Bobby Zamora and Moussa Dembele have been left in London to recover from their illnesses as Fulham prepare to take on Odense in Denmark tomorrow night.

The two forwards are expected to be fit to face QPR on Sunday, leaving Martin Jol will a decision to make as to who will partner the fit again Andy Johnson up front. Orlando Sa is his preferred choice, although the Portuguese striker will have to shake off a knock to play – with Clint Dempsey another option. Defender Aaron Hughes has also remained in London as he aims to recover from a knee problem in time to return to action for the local derby at the weekend.

Andy Johnson is fine but Mousa Dembele and Bobby Zamora stayed behind in London. As you know Bobby was ill last weekend and Mousa fell ill on Monday and we had to send him home.

Bobby started training again on Tuesday but he’s not 100% yet so it’s better that he’s ready for our next game against Queens Park Rangers on Sunday. The Medical team thought it would be a very good idea to load him with some extra sessions instead of playing over here.

I would have brought Bobby and Mousa with me if they were fit but we’ve got enough players up front. Orlando Sa has a little problem but he will train tonight and hopefully he’ll be 100%. Even if he’s not I’ve still got Clint Dempsey and Andrew Johnson so I don’t see a problem.

Jol wants his side to claim their first Europa League stage win tomorrow night, but knows it won’t be easy.

Danish teams are always good footballing teams but we’ve got a good team and we’ve got a good record in Europa, home and away. We’ve had a lot of draws so far this season and as you know, when Bobby has played, he’s scored goals. Andrew Johnson is fit again now so I’m confident we’ve got goals and enough quality in the Team. We need a result on Thursday night.