Fulham Flying in Europe!
Fulham gained a surprise entry into the Europa League this season after finishing 7th in the Premier League. Roy Hodgson has transformed his players from the downbeat side which was nearly relegated just two seasons ago. He has brought the best from “past-it” players like Paul Konchesky and Damien Duff whilst Bobby Zamora has been an inspiration this season with many pundits demanding that the striker should be given a chance in the England squad. Hodgson has also spent his money wisely, bringing in relatively unknown players in to the side and nurturing them into world beaters. Bjorn Helge Risse may be one of Hodgsons best signings of the season after the young defender’s impressive season.
Roy Hodgson has transformed his Fulham side into Europa League challengers after an impressive campaign so far.
Fulham’s venture into the unknown started with two easy qualifying games against Vetra and Amkar Perm. As expected, Hodgson’s men ran out winners against Vetra but just scraped through after losing one leg against Amkar Perm. Pitched up against CSKA Sofia, AS Roma and FC Basel it seemed unlikely that Fulham would make it past the group stages but an impressive draw with CSKA gave the londoners hope. Danny Murphy gave Fulham a big win against FC Basel and many fans began to believe that maybe the West London side may have a chance of progressing in the tournament. However, Fulham faced their toughest two fixtures of the group stages with two consecutive games against AS Roma. Brede Hangeland scored in the 24th minute to give Fulham the lead and it looked like they would hold on to it, but it was heartbreak in teh 93rd minute as Andreolli equalised for Roma and Fulham left with just a point. No one expected anything from Fulham in the return fixture but a goal from Kamara gave Fulham the lead after 20 minutes. Fulham could not hold on though and Roma won 2-1. Conversely, all was not lost!
Brede Hangeland’s inspired performance against AS Roma kept Fulham in the race with a valuable point.
Fulham needed wins against CSKA Sofia and FC Basel to secure entry into the knockout rounds. Zoltan Gera came to life scoring a goal in each match whilst Bobby Zamora showed his Premier League form by scoring too. So, Fulham had made it to the knockout stages! Nevertheless, their next opponents Shakter Donetsk were the reigning champions. It seemed that Fulham had reached their last hurdle but they grabbed a huge 2-1 win with Gera and Zamora both scoring again. Beating the reigning champions at home was one thing and holding them to a draw away from home was another and Roy Hodgson knew this. He employed a four-five-one formation with Zamora up front on his own and Brede Hangeland scored a header against the run of play to gift Fulham with a lead and despite Shaktar scoring an equaliser, Fulham were through to the last 16.
Zamora’s inspired season has lead the way for Fulham success this season
Fulham face a strong Juventus side to reach the quarter finals. Many may see this as one step to far but then again, who thought they would beat Shaktar. I think Fulham have a great opportunity to try and reach the quarter finals, especially as Juventus have had a poor season in their home league. However, Roy Hodgson will know that this is not their only chance of silverware after drawing at home to Tottenham in the FA Cup so it will be interesting to see what tactics he employs. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a Europa League final with Fulham involved? I certainly think it would!