The Fulham centre back was not surprised by the quality of a RNK Split side, who might consider themselves unfortunate not to have fashioned a lead to bring with them to Craven Cottage.
I don’t know how everyone else perceived them but, from watching the DVDs, we saw that they were well-organised and a good side. We knew it was going to be a good test – and it was.
We’re reasonably happy that we came away with a clean sheet – when you go away from home you’re always happy with that. It would have been nice to get on the score sheet ourselves but they’re not a bad side.
ut here, no matter who you play, physically they’re strong and well-organised and they’re at home – so they have the incentive to try and cause an upset. The pitch, at times, didn’t help us but overall with the conditions and how the opposition played, we’ve got be happy with the clean sheet. We know we’ve got a chance taking them back to the Cottage.
Hughes warned against complacency ahead of the second leg next Thursday and suggested that Fulham may need to be patient.
It will be similar, at times they sat a little bit deep and tried to stop us playing so we can expect something similar – especially since we’re at home. But hopefully the home advantage could stick the tie in our favour – there’s still something to play for and I’m sure they’ll be thinking the same thing.
We didn’t expect to rock up here and win two or three nil, we would have liked to… it would have been great. But we respect the opposition and that’s why we’re reasonably happy to come away with a draw.
A lethargic performance by Fulham was fortunate not to be punished as Croatian hosts RNK Split dominated the ninety minutes. The warnings were there on five minutes as the Fulham back four was caught totally square, Ante Erceg sent clear through on Schwarzer’s goal only for the striker to scuff his shot horribly wide. RNK continued to pepper the Aussie’s goal and created another good chance mid way through the half after a near post delivery from a free kick was flicked on with the outside of a foot but the attempt was miscued and Schwarzer plucked the ball out of the air.
Still, despite a couple of forays into the RNK Half Fulham were clearly struggling, their only attempt of note in the first half hour a tame shot from Zamora from distance. In contrast to the lethargic use of possession and disorganised marking and closing down by the away team, RNK Split were quick with their passing, keeping possession well and using their extra man and wing backs to good effect by making sure no Fulham player had their way with the ball. This wasn’t helped by Zamora who’s first touch was uncharacteristically poor all night, so any time the ball did make its way to him it didn’t stick as it usually would. Murphy similarly was a virtual passenger throughout the game, barely getting hold of the ball and demanding possession as he did so well last season and Etuhu was incredibly ineffective both with and without the ball. With the midfield battle being well and truely won by the Croats Jol would have been relieved to go in at half time unscathed.
The start of the second half was more positive for Fulham, perhaps after being told a few words by the manager, who almost created a chance for Briggs after Andy Johnson showed an impressive burst of pace to cut the ball back from the byline before the RNK right back made a good interception. This second wind wasn’t to last however and the pattern of play soon fell back into how it played in the first half. The subs started rolling out onto the pitch and the home side were clearly feeling as if they could get a shock result, putting four forwards out on the pitch. The Fulham changes were slightly more conservative, Sidwell replacing Etuhu only to pick up where the Nigerian left off, and Zamora making way after eighty mintues for debutant Kasami whos first action was a nice display of agility to win a free kick which went to waste, as many others did this evening.
There was still time left for an RNK player to make himself a hero in their self proclaimed biggest game of their history when Duje Cop turned Baird majestically on the edge of the box before slipping as he struck the shot straight at Schwarzer. It was a let off that summed up Fulham’s night, who’ll return to England with the aggregate reading 0-0 before the home game for which they will surely be heavy favourites
Fulham certainly weren’t at their best tonight, looking all game as if they were in second gear (other than Duff who consistently impresses), but one suspects that this game was still being treated as a ‘pre-season friendly’ despite the enthusiasm and quality of play by the opposition. Conclusions can’t really be drawn from this game, just as if Fulham turn RNK over next Thursday it doesn’t make them world beaters. The most important thing is progress to the group stages and the builing of match fitness which were objectives that were just about achieved tonight, even if the performance was disappointing. There is the right to expect an improved display next week however, otherwise the favourites just might be caught cold…
Fulham’s first proper UEFA Cup tie was against Hadjuk Split back in September 2002 in one of the most intimidating arenas in European football. Next week, the Whites – now much more experienced in continental competition – return to the beautiful Croatian city to face a side whose recent history rather mirrors our own. The question is: who will be this side’s Steed Malbranque?
RNK Split were languishing in the fourth tier of Croatian football four years ago. Formed in 1912, the club has strong working class and anarchist links. RNK stands for Radni?ki nogometni klub which literally translates as ‘workers’ football club’. The club has a particularly political history off the field too. During the Spanish civil war, the club organised a legion of men to fight against Franco and more than a hundred of the club’s players were killed during the Second World War as they battled the Axis powers.
The club have largely been a lower-league side for much of their history. In the days of the former Yugoslavia, the closest RNK came to a degree of success was when they reached the semi-finals of the Yugoslavian Cup in 1960-61. They were beaten by now Macedonian side Vardar.
RNK have enjoyed a meteoric rise over the last few years. They stormed to three championships in three successive years having narrowly missed out on promotion from the fourth division in 2006-07. Last season, only their second in the Croatian top-flight in their history, saw the club finish third in the table. Inspired by their experienced coach Ivan Katalini?, who made 54 appearances in the Southampton goal during the 1970s, RNK were formidable at home and played some sparkling football. Their success was built on an impressive home record (they only lost three home games all season) and a strong defence, spearheaded by Croatian international centre back Ivica Križanac. Midfield creativity comes in the form of the experienced veteran Zozul Ante, who was part of the side that rose through the divisions.
RNK’s third place finish ensured a place in the Europa League this year. They were comfortable 5-2 aggregate winners over Slovenian side Domzale. Young striker Duje Cop, a summer signing from rivals Hajduk Split, announced his arrival with a brace in the first leg and the 21 year-old, whose father Davor was a Hajduk legend in the 1980s, has the ability to trouble the Fulham defence with his aerial ability and a penchant for running with the ball.
Here are the goals from RNK’s first leg victory over Domzale:
The Belgian forward made a bright start to his Fulham career after completing a £5m transfer from AZ Alkmaar last summer but struggled to maintain that momentum during an injury-hit season. Dembele scored five times in 29 appearances under Mark Hughes and has yet to feature for new boss Martin Jol, who has pinpointed the 24 year-0ld as one of Fulham’s key players, due to injury.
Jol has tipped Dembele to return to the squad for next week’s Europa League trip to RNK Split and Dembele has revealed that he wants to build on his debut season.
I am here to make a difference and I believe that I can help take this club forward. I’m happy with how things have gone.
The team have done well and after a difficult start to the season, things came together for us. It was kind of a new chapter for Fulham, but we learned a lot and I think we can expect even more next season