There was a general feeling of ‘job done’ leading into Fulham’s home tie with Lithuanian side FK Vetra. Bobby Zamora, Danny Murphy and Seol Ki-Hyeon provided the Cottagers with a 3-goal cushion back in Vilnius, but Roy Hodgson wasn’t taking any chances and named a reasonably strong team to eliminate any potential ‘banana skins’ into the next round.
That said, there was only 15,016 in attendance at Craven Cottage, even with prices set at £15 adults and £5 for children. Perhaps word had spread about the reputation of the ‘Piktas Lokys’ – or the ‘Angry Bears’ to you and I – Vetra’s hooligan firm, much feared in their home country. But the away following was relatively small and mostly made up of fans from the surrounding area, a calm atmosphere maintained throughout the night. The miserable weather was probably more of an incentive to stay home.
Fulham started brightly, taking advantage of a shaky start from Vetra, who were under pressure to try and relieve at least some of the deficit. There was plenty of space for the West London side to explore, Paul Konchesky in particular supplying crosses from the left which were not used to their full potential.
However, Vetra could well have been in front after 11 minutes. Razanauskas’ fierce long distance drive after an advance into enemy territory was parried over the crossbar by Mark Schwarzer. And had Grigalevicius continued pressuring John Pantsil deep into Fulham’s half, instead of conceding an uneccesary foul, the Lithuanian side may have gained something more fruitful. Set pieces from both sides were spurned; Zoltan Gera should have done better from Zamora’s 34th minute corner, and Stanaitis’ indecision meant a late first half free kick went to waste.
Fulham kept up their dominance after the break, passing the ball fluently around the field and coming close through Konchesky and Clint Dempsey. Yet they had to wait until the 57th minute to break the deadlock. Eliosius gifted the home side a corner, and Dixon Etuhu, absent from last week’s teamsheet due to the birth of his child, headed home powerfully from Konchesky’s curling cross.
The Cottagers could now afford to take their foot off the gas, Hodgson substituting Gera and Pantsil with new signings Steven Kelly from Birmingham and Bjorn Helge Riise, brother of John Arne. There was seemingly no way back for Vetra – now their only concern was to maintain a degree of respectability by conceding no further goals.
Andy Johnson, however, had other ideas, striking the ball home from close range in the 80th minute. Dempsey was heavily involved in the goal, the American stealing the ball from Eliosius inside the defender’s own half, producing a step over and sending an accurate cross over to Johnson.
Four minutes later and the former Everton striker had a brace. Eddie Johnson, who had replaced Zamora on the pitch only moments earlier, found himself with space from Dempsey’s clever pass, and put in a low ball across goal for AJ to again tap into the net. Game over for Vetra, although in all fairness it had been for quite some time now.
Another commanding performance in defence from Brede Hangeland, but with Arsenal reportedly interested in the Norwegian, could that have been his last? Man of the Match was certainly Dempsey, who was always in the thick of the action. Fulham now have a trip to Russia to look forward to, as today’s Europa League draw paired them with Amkar Perm.
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