Top Gera drives superb Fulham fightback to delight the Cottage

Fulham 2 Hamburg 1 (Fulham win 2-1 on aggregate)

You could say that the road for Fulham to the Europa League final has been 18 games and nine months but to be at Craven Cottage last night was to know that it has been longer than that – in fact it felt more like 131 years of largely mediocre history had culminated in spectacular fashion

It was quite simply the greatest moment in the life of this football club. Never mind the 1975 FA Cup final, this was the moment that this august little club on the banks of the Thames announced itself to the world with a two-goal comeback and a place among the big guns of Europe. Fulham are going to Hamburg again for the final on 12 May and this time they will travel there in style.

The coach journey that took Fulham to Germany for the first leg of this tie stands as a testament to the appealing ordinariness of this club. As is his manner, Roy Hodgson took this victory in his stride but you could hardly say the same for the rest. John Pantsil ran laps of the pitch. Mohamed al-Fayed was down on the turf as quick as he could get there. Suddenly life has changed for Fulham.

Even by the time the players came out the dressing rooms and through a late downpour in west London, extra-time was yet to be completed at Anfield. That they will play Atletico Madrid rather than Liverpool means that Fulham will be the focus of this match in England rather than their customary position of being overshadowed by bigger clubs with bigger issues.

This was Hodgson's masterpiece. He played Zamora although the striker was far from completely fit and only when he took the striker off just before the hour did Fulham, one goal down, at last come alive. Simon Davies scored a beautifully taken equaliser and as Hamburg lost their nerve and fell back even more, Zoltan Gera hit what turned out to be the winner.

It is the sheer scale of the achievement that will send Hodgson's reputation skyward. Basle, Juventus, Wolfsburg and now Hamburg have all been beaten at Craven Cottage on this marathon run to the final by a club that has never won a trophy from the first rank in their entire history. Hodgson is now the pre-eminent English manager in the game and he richly deserves that status.

He has certainly picked his moment. In the season when the Premier League's biggest beasts did not make it past the quarter-finals of the Champions League, Fulham have a clear run at glory in Europe in the final furlong of the season. They carry the flag for English football and in their attitude and style of play they are worthy standard-bearers.

For all the joy at the end, this was the kind of first half for Fulham that made you wonder whether they had finally run out of steam. Hamburg, a tidy if rather functional team, had the best of it early on. Ruud van Nistelrooy was quiet all night but the veteran Ze Roberto was excellent in central midfield.

The goal from Hamburg was an exceptional hit from the Croatian striker Mladen Petric. He was the man who scored arguably the most significant goal in English football of the last three years when, in November 2007 he beat Scott Carson to win that infamous Euro 2008 qualifier for Croatia. Danny Murphy fouled Ze Roberto for the free-kick and Petric struck a shot which beat the wall in a tight arc and found the top corner.

Limping at the start of the second half Zamora was replaced by Clint Dempsey before the hour was up. Well-controlled by the German international Jerome Boateng and caught offside on an embarrassing number of occasion this was not Zamora's best night. But things were about to get interesting.

Fulham had not even fashioned a chance since Zamora struck one straight at the goalkeeper Frank Rost in the third minute until, just after the hour, Paul Konchesky played a free-kick on the left short to Damien Duff in the area. Duff put his shot wide of the post but it seemed to re-awaken in Fulham the idea of winning this game.

With the German side increasingly willing to stand-off in midfield, Murphy was able to dictate play. His pass for the first goal was a beauty, picking out the run of Simon Davies through the Hamburg defence. Davies turned the defender Guy Demel with a neat bit of skill and beat him from close range.

The winning goal was expertly taken by Gera who also came into his own once Zamora was off the pitch. He was given two touches when the ball was recycled via Dickson Etuhu from a corner and he beat the Hamburg goalkeeper Rost at his near post. You expected the siege from Hamburg – the final, after all, will be played in their stadium – but it never came. Van Nistelrooy barely got a glimpse of goal.

For those who were there at the final whistle, this was Craven Cottage's most famous night. Not even their most famous son Johnny Haynes, looking down from a mural in the corner of the ground, ever witnessed a night like this. This was Fulham's moment and it could get even better.

Fulham (4-4-1-1) Schwarzer; Pantsil (Nevland, 75), Hangeland, Hughes, Konchesky; Duff, Etuhu, Murphy, Davies; Gera; Zamora (Dempsey, 57). Substitutes not used Zuberbühler (gk), Riise, Smalling, Greening, Dikgacoi.

Hamburg (4-4-2) Rost; Demel, Boateng, Mathijsen, Aogo; Tesche (Rincon, 56; Guerrero, 79), Jarolim (Rozehnal, 90), Ze Roberto, Pitroipa; Petric, Van Nistelrooy. Substitutes not used Hesl (gk), Berg, Arslan, Schulz.

Referee C Cakir (Turkey).

News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Life and Style
Scientist have developed a test which predicts whether you'll live for another ten years
health
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn