Murphy finds the space to fire Fulham
Fulham 1 Basle 0
Friday 02 October 2009
Insipid, lacking in rhythm and instantly forgettable, the new Europa League anthem is altogether a shocker. A few more matches like this, however, and the revamped competition itself may yet catch the imagination. This was a game of pace, commitment and no little skill, and if it lacked the frenetic pressure of a Premier League fixture, it was none the worse for that.
With the Cottagers having lost their previous three matches and hovering a place above the relegation zone, the temptation to rest players in preparation for Sunday's visit to West Ham must have been mighty for Fulham manager Roy Hodgson. Having indignantly insisted he did not see the competition as a potential distraction, however, Hodgson had little choice other than to field a strong side. Even so, a clutch of minor injuries meant there were still five changes to the team unfortunate to lose to Arsenal last Saturday, including three of the back four.
Having coached successfully at both club and national level in Switzerland, Hodgson was not have been surprised to see the visitors were accomplished and well-organised from the start, and had Alexander Frei not pulled his shot wide after Behrang Safari beat Stephen Kelly on the Fulham right, they might have taken a deserved early lead. The near miss galvanised Fulham, and Andrew Johnson drove a low shot a foot wide with Basle goalkeeper Franco Costanzo well beaten. At the other end Benjamin Huggel volleyed just over, but the midfielder's technique deserted him when Marco Streller's cushioned header left him with only Mark Schwarzer to beat. From six yards, he scooped the ball wastefully over the bar.
Playing towards their supporters in the second half, Basel continued to press forward, but Fulham's midfield was beginning to come to terms with their opponents, and Murphy, always quick to adjust, became increasingly influential. It was fitting he should break the deadlock, though Johnson, running tirelessly, deserved almost as much credit for the pull-back which his captain side-footed home.
Basle began to work their way back into the game. Frei, having turned cleverly on the edge of the area to create a yard of space, held his head after hitting the resulting shot straight at the Australian goalkeeper. At least he got it on target though. With eight minutes remaining Streller, having created a number of opportunities for his team-mates, finally had a chance of his own. It was a gilt-edged one too, but from eight yards, he too blasted high. Even then Valentin Stocker, deep into injury time, should have equalised, but Schwarzer dived full length to push the shot away.
"It was an exciting game with no quarter given, and I'm pleased we came out on top," said Hodgson. "I knew we would be playing a good team, and this will improve our confidence going in to Sunday."
Basle manager Thorsten Fink felt his team had lost concentration at the start of the second half. "We created a lot of chances. and controlled most of the game, so I'm disappointed," he said.
Fulham (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Kelly, Smalling, Baird, Konchesky; Riise, Greening, Murphy, Dempsey; Zamora, Johnson. Substitutes not used: Pantsil, Nevland, Gera, Kamara, Hughes, Saunders, Anderson.
Basle (4-4-2): Costanzo; Sahin, Abraham (Da Silva, 68), Atan, Safari; Carlitos (Almerares, 82), Huggel, Gelabert (Chipperfield, 85), Stocker; Frei, Streller. Substitutes not used: Colomba (gk), Chipperfield, Shaqiri, Cabral, Ferati. Referee: M Weiner (Germany).
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