Bobby Zamora's outstanding second-half goal ensured Fulham will travel to Donetsk next week backed by a slender advantage following a victory manager Roy Hodgson believes marks the remarkable progress made by the club over the last two years.
A place in the last 16 of the Europa League is far from assured and there was enough evidence in this first leg to suggest Shakhtar, winners of the last Uefa Cup last season, are capable of raising their game by several levels.
The manner in which Fulham recovered after the visitors appeared to have gained control of the game when Luiz Adriano cancelled out Zoltan Gera's third-minute opening goal spoke volumes about the organisation and resolve instilled in them by Hodgson. And in Zamora's winning goal, Fulham provided the moment of outstanding quality in an absorbing tie.
"If you'd have said to me two years ago that Fulham would be beating Shakhtar Donetsk I'd have thought you were taking the mickey," said Hodgson. "This was a big game for Fulham football club and it shows we have come a long way in two years. It will be nice to be going there with a one goal lead and the chance to make a name for ourselves, but it will be difficult."
An impressive save by Mark Schwarzer in added time preserved Fulham's lead and if they are to proceed, Schwarzer and his defenders will have to match the resolve of the Harrods bouncers who denied the visiting Ukraine side access to Fulham owner Mohamed Al Fayed's flagship store this week.
Fulham intentions were immediately clear when a Brede Hangeland header was saved by goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov after just 30 seconds. Shakhtar's relief, however, was short-lived, and the visitors defence held out for 90 more seconds before they were undone by a combination of Murphy's through-ball, a neat flick from Zamora and a composed left foot finish from Gera.
With the Ukraine league still in its mid-winter break, the visitors initially appeared ring-rusty. Once they hit their stride, however, they carved Fulham open with ominous ease and the home side ended the first-half grateful to be on level terms.
Shakhtar's Brazilian midfielders Ilsinho and Jadson began to link effectively and Fulham were forced into a series of increasingly desperate defending. They were powerless to prevent the visitors' 30th-minute equaliser, though, with Ilsinho's pass sending countryman Luiz Adriano clear of the defence before rounding rounded Schwarzer and rolling the ball home.
Fulham could easily have wilted but they rallied after the interval and deservedly forced their way back into the lead through an instinctive strike from Zamora. Having been guilty of dawdling on the ball moments earlier, the striker's actions couldn't have been sharper as he turned and shot in one movement from 20 yards out, firing home off the underside of the bar.
Fulham (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Baird, Hughes, Hangeland, Kelly; Davies, Etuhu, Murphy, Duff; Gera (Elm 89), Zamora. Substitutes not used: Zuberbühler (gk), Nevland, Riise, Smalling, Greening, Marsh-Brown.
Shakhtar Donetsk (4-4-2): Pyatov; Srna, Kucher, Rakitskiy, Rat; Ilsinho, Hubschman (Kravchenko 78), Fernandinho, Willian; Jadson (Douglas Costa 75), Luiz Adriano. Substitutes not used: Khudzamov (gk), Lewandowski, Gai, Gladkyy, Ischenko.
Referee: S Gumienny (Belgium).