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Johnson steers Fulham through

When Martin Jol took over earlier this summer, all the early talk was about him adding a striker to supply the goals that had holding the Premier League’s draw specialists back over the last couple of years. Bemusement followed when, a few games into his reign, Jol insisted he was happy with his forward options. Perhaps the answer was right under his nose all along. Andy Johnson has more than his fair share of knockers, perhaps influenced by the talk of a £10m transfer fee, but the pint-sized striker continues to prove them all wrong. He’s rekindled his potent partnership with Bobby Zamora during Jol’s brief reign and his predatory instincts were the difference between success and failure against a spirited RNK Split side this evening.

His goal, which arrived just as the Craven Cottage faithful were fretting that a fine first-half display wouldn’t deliver the lead it merited, was about as atypical of the man as one could possibly be. A near-post flick from a corner can’t have featured regularly in the Johnson repertoire throughout his career, but a clever run saw him shake off the attentions his marker and guide a clever header into the far corner. Until then, Fulham had carried plenty of threat but failed to seriously test Andrija Vukovi? in the Split goal.

Damien Duff, who seems to be relishing this European campaign, came closest during a bright opening. With barely a minute and half on the clock, Duff shot wide from a clever Danny Murphy free-kick. Seconds later, he found himself into another shooting position, but failed to get a clean connection with the goal in sight. Clint Dempsey, restored to the starting line-up having returned to training this week after his Gold Cup exertions with the United States, almost doubled Fulham’s lead nine minutes after Johnson’s opener. The opportunity owed much to Johnson’s persistence – as the former Everton forward hassled a defender into a mistake on the by-line – and cut the ball back for Dempsey, whose drive from the edge of the box curled just wide of the far post.

The first half finished with a concerted spell of Fulham pressure. Johnson saw a goalbound effort blocked by a defender and Murphy, released by a lovely searching pass from Zamora, was foiled by a sprawling save from Vukovic.

Split, obviously energised by a rousing half time team-talk, emerged with a much more adventurous mindset. They abandoned their diagonal long-ball approach and took the game to Fulham in the second half, but were still largely restricted to long-range efforts. A dipping free-kick from Ante Vitaic had Mark Schwarzer scrambling anxiously across his line, but it flew narrowly wide. The visitors saw a lot more of the ball, but just as they were looking to impose themselves on the contest, Johnson nudged it out of their reach.

He had worked the channels tirelessly throughout the evening and one lung-busting run proved too much for Split to handle. Johnson surged away from two defenders and inside the penalty area, the danger inducing a reckless lunge from the otherwise excellent Velimir Vidic, and sending Johnson crashing to the turf. The referee had a quick look at his assistant and awarded the penalty, which Murphy duly dispatched.

Split still carried a threat and almost grabbed a crucial away goal immediately afterwards. A dangerous free-kick was stabbed goalwards by Goran Milovic and the ball bounced to safety off the underside of the crossbar, while Schwarzer was forced to save splendidly twice: first a low, tumbling stop from substitute Romano Obilinovi? and then a terrific tip-over from Ante Erceg’s dipping drive.

Fulham finished proceedings on the front foot. Substitute Pajtim Kasami almost capped another promising cameo with a goal, but his pacey free-kick just didn’t dip enough to find the top corner. Johnson thought he had crowned his night with a second, sprinting clear of the Split defence and rounding the goalkeeper to roll the ball home, but a late offside flag abruptly ended the celebrations. Johnson might have received a yellow card for his trouble, but he had already made his mark.

FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Hughes, J.A. Riise, Senderos, Hangeland; Etuhu, Murphy, Duff (Kasami 89), Dempsey (Briggs 81); Zamora (Dembele 76), Johnson. Subs (not used): Somogyi, Kelly, Baird, Gecov.

BOOKED: Johnson, Murphy, Briggs.

GOALS: Johnson (18), Murphy (pen 57).

RNK SPLIT (5-2-3): Vukovic; Marcic, Budisa, Vidic, Krizanac, Milovic; Simic, Vitaic (Rasic 74); Cop (Jordan 83), Erceg, Baraban (Obilinovi? 61). Subs (not used): Zagorac, Radnic, Galovic, Barisic.

BOOKED: Baraban, Vidic, Marcic, Rasic.

REFEREE: Duarte Gomes (Portugal).

ATTENDANCE: 17,067

Zamora fit for RNK Split

Bobby Zamora is fit to start Fulham’s Europa League third qualifying round second leg against RNK Split despite breaking his hand.

Striker Zamora suffered a fracture in last week’s goalless first leg and will wear a cast for the next few weeks.

Steve Sidwell is suspended, Simon Davies (knee) remains sidelined, but Mousa Dembele and Clint Dempsey return to the squad after missing the trip to Croatia.

The Croatian side will be without Bosnian forward Bojan Golubovic, who failed to get a visa in time for the trip.

Kasami looks to build on debut

One of the bright spots from a disappointing night in Split was Pajtim Kasami’s promising cameo as a second-half substitute.

The Swiss midfielder made an eye-catching run and, despite not seeing too much of the ball during his brief appearance, is keen to build on his Fulham debut.

I’m happy to have played in my first game for Fulham. I want to help the team and now I’m just looking forward to my next game. They were ok as an opposition, but I think we can do better than that and hopefully we will see that in the second game next week.

Kasami also revealed how pleased he is to be working under new Fulham manager Martin Jol.

I’m really pleased to be working for him because he is a fantastic coach. I’ve been a Fulham player little more than three days, but the whole squad are really happy – there’s a good spirit, which has made it easier for me. So I’m working hard in training now to make sure I reach my top level for Fulham.

It’s great to come back to England, but like I say, this is only my third day so I’m looking forward to working hard, improving and helping the team achieve success. I’m an attacking midfielder so I hope I can score goals and make many assists for the Club, bringing all my qualities to the team to help Fulham win matches.

Hughes warns of tough task ahead

Aaron Hughes expects a difficult second leg next week after Fulham battled to a goalless draw in Split this evening.

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.

Jol ‘satisfied’ with Fulham showing

Martin Jol professed himself ‘satisfied’ with Fulham’s first leg performance in Split tonight, but was frustrated his side couldn’t nick a crucial away goal.

They had probably as much possession as we had, maybe a bit more. But nil-nil away from home against a good side; I’m not happy but I’m satisfied.

We knew that they were a good side. The only thing that was probably different was they changed the formation at the back.

We play in our certain way and normally you can put a bit more pressure on the centre backs – but we couldn’t do that – so that is why we had to drop off, too much for my liking.

They had probably three or four good chances, that is the only thing we have to work on. We didn’t do enough with the ball in their half but we will do better at home. I expect that we will have more initiative – we have to play better to score.