Saturday, July 23, 2011

Fulham 4 Crusaders 0 - Damien's Strike is a bad Omen for Split

These southern contingent of the Europa Legion works outings to Fulham to watch the early rounds of the Europa League are becoming something of tradition after our second trip to Craven Cottage last Thursday. I've not been to every football stadium in the world but would suggest that the walk from the Temperance bar to the football ground is probably the most pleasant.

If you have the dubious pleasure of my company, on such a journey, then be sure to keep walking when we pass All Saints Church, lest I bore you with film trivia about Father Brennan, played by former Doctor Who Patrick Troughton, getting impaled outside that very church in the 1976 film, The Omen.

Anyhoo, after having such a great time in the First Qualifying Round against NSI Runavik from the Faroes, we were only too happy to wander along for the Second Qualifying Round, this time against, Northern Irish opposition, Crusaders. This was the second leg and the Belfast club were already 3-1 behind so we weren't expecting a fiercely contested encounter. Possibly anxious to avoid a hiding, the visitors adopted a very defensive posture which, unfortunately for them, did not pay off. Andrew Johnson’s strike was his second of the competition, a crisp finish that put the tie beyond doubt.

For the rest of the first half it looked like the game would turn into a training exercise with the Premier League players practising possession. However, while the second half lacked intensity, the home crowd were treated to two cracking goals by Damien Duff and Bobby Zamora. Duff's goal was from a sharp angle that beat Crusaders ‘keeper Sean O’Neill at the far post. But we were particularly pleased with the Zamora strike, sat as we were right in front of the ball as it curled around O’Neill. Whatever else you may think of the Europa League, we have seen some quality goals from top class footballers for less than the price of a ticket to a Ryman League game.

Star of the show was Steve Sidwell who hit the post once and missed a plethora of easy chances. His ability to disappear from the game, only to reappear at crucial moments to ruin everything was acknowledged by the Aston Villa supporting contingent of our party who were more than happy to pour scorn on on the former Villa player. Needless to say, Sidwell finally stuck it to his critics by heading Fulham’s fourth goal in the 70th minute, in off the bar.

The crowd left the stadium happy and the several hundred Crusaders fans were generous to their players at the final whistle. It would not be too much of an exaggeration to say that this was one of the biggest games in their history.

For Fulham, it is onwards to the Third Qualifying Round, this Thursday with a trip to Croatia and RNK Split. On current form your money should be on the Premier League side progressing to the play-offs. By coincidence their compatriots, Stoke City, enter the competition at this stage and will also travel to Split to play Hajduk.

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