'Big blow' for Jol as Fulham Fall at last
Fulham 2 Odense BK 2
Pride, Fulham may ruminate, comes before a Fall. Martin Jol's side had their
ticket into the knockout rounds of the Europa League. They were two goals up
against pliant Danish opposition, a limited team already out of the competition.
They had their pass to take their place next to Manchester City and Manchester United in Europe's new glamour parade. And then, at the last, at the very, very last, they blew it.
And how. Even after Hans Henrik Andreasen clipped a free-kick past Neil Etheridge, deputising for the injured Mark Schwarzer, midway through the second half, Fulham looked safe, whether Wisla Krakow managed a win at home to FC Twente or not. Goals from Clint Dempsey and the impressive Kerim Frei looked to have secured passage. Odense, their guests, seemed scant threat.
Then Orlando Sa lost the ball, Espen Ruud broke down the right, picked out Baye Djiby Fall in the box, leaping above Aaron Hughes, and the Senegalese substitute headed home. Wisla had won; Fulham were out. There were six seconds left to play. Six seconds.
"It is a big blow," said Jol, his voice hoarse, clearly still shell-shocked. "The dressing room is very disappointed. Normally you have a few minutes to repair it, but not when they score at the very end. It was disappointing. Maybe it was a little bit a lack of experience, not to keep the ball when you have just 25 seconds to go at home. That was disappointing."
That is a kind description. True, Jol had named a smattering of young prospects – Marcel Gecov, Matthew Briggs, Frei – but this was not a side devoid of know-how, of the wisdom of age. To throw away a two-goal lead on such an occasion is, if anything, not far off professional negligence.
Especially when it had been going so swimmingly. Twice Odense had been forced to clear the ball from their own goal-line, before Fulham's third-time lucky: Frei burst down the left, played the ball in to Bobby Zamora, whose lay-off found the American. A precise finish low to Stefan Wessels' right, and the nerves were settled.
When Frei doubled the lead, sliding an effort past the veteran German after Moussa Dembélé's through ball bisected Odense's defence, Craven Cottage, shivering in the chill, could relax. Perhaps that is the explanation. Perhaps that was the problem. "Maybe they took their foot off the speeder," said Henrik Clausen, the Odense manager. "Maybe they were satisfied."
That was the Fulham of the second half: satiated, ponderous, narcoleptic. They barely seemed to notice when Andreasen stroked home a sumptuous free-kick, albeit a controversial one, after the midfielder moved the ball a yard to his right for a more favourable angle. "That is not an excuse," said Jol.
They looked like they would get away with it, even then, even as they sleepwalked their way to the end of the game, but the visitors would have one chance. It would be all they required. Fulham slumped to their knees as Fall celebrated with Odense's riotous fans. Jol simply fumed on the touchline, wallowing in impotent rage. Just as the Europa League becomes the place to be, they are ejected from it. With six seconds to go. Six seconds, and then a Fall at the last.
Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer faces up to six weeks on the sidelines with a spinal injury. The Australia international sustained the injury during Saturday's 2-0 defeat at Swansea and saw a specialist consultant on Tuesday night.
Schwarzer has been diagnosed with a compression injury to his thoracic spine and will be out for between four and six weeks.
As a result, Fulham manager Martin Jol has invoked a loan clause bringing England squad member David Stockdale back from a spell with Ipswich.
Fulham (4-4-2): Etheridge; Kelly, Hangeland, Hughes, Briggs; Frei, Gecov, Baird, Dempsey (Duff, 72); Dembele, Zamora (Sa, 89).
Odense BK (4-4-2): Wessels; Ruud, Hoegh, Reginiussen, Mendy (Djemba-Djemba, 85); Gislason, Andreasen, Sorensen, Kadrii (Johansson, 69); Jensen (Fall, 78), Utaka.
Referee A Yefet (Israel).
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