Fulham 1 Roma 1: match report
This was so nearly a famous victory for Fulham and their inspirational manager Roy Hodgson. This was so nearly a humiliating defeat for Roma until Marco Andreolli's injury-time equaliser. But this was definitely an embarrassing defeat for Michel Platini's plan for officials behind the goal. Leading through Brede Hangeland's first-half header, Fulham conceded a penalty 12 minutes from time when Stephen Kelly tripped John Arne Riise. The Belgian officials ludicrously dismissed Hangeland until the Fulham players, even Kelly himself, all pointed out that it was the dark-haired full-back not the tall, fair-haired centre-half, forcing them to change their minds. Mark Schwarzer guessed Jeremy Menez's mind and saved the penalty but had no chance deep into stoppage time when Andreolli's shot deflected in off John Pantsil, ruining an otherwise wonderful night for Fulham and Hodgson. Even before Hangeland's majestic header midway through the first half brought due reward for Fulham's purposeful football, it was inexplicable to think that the club could risk losing their inspirational manager. Sweden and Norway would love to employ Hodgson, whose contract at Craven Cottage expires next summer. Fulham insist that a deal will be sorted, that they have not intention of allowing the catalyst behind their upsurge in fortunes to take his widely-regarded skills elsewhere. There is no great secret to Hodgson's success. He buys hungry players like Hangeland, imperious against Roma's attack in the first period, and makes them better. He revives the careers of those like Aaron Hughes, who made some important tackles on the few occasions Roma showed a first-half threat, with sound advice and words of encouragement. Hodgson brought in Jonathan Greening from West Brom and the midfielder could easily have scored twice in the opening exchanges, the first strike bringing a magnificent save from Doni, Roma's keeper. Hodgson conducts deep research into the opposition, also drawing on his own experience. This was the sixth occasion the former Inter Milan and Udinese coach had faced Roma and he had lost only one of the previous five. Hodgson saw Roma's defensive vulnerability, the way their full-backs, Nicolas Burdisso and John Arne Riise, pushed slightly forward and targeted the space behind them. There is a quiet dignity to Hodgson that players and supporters also respond to. It was little surprise to hear the Hammersmith End chanting his name as Greening went close and Riise's brother, Bjorn Helge, stormed down the right, even muscling his sibling off the ball to Craven Cottage's delight. Roma's Riise is not popular down by the Thames, having spurned the club's advances a decade ago on maternal advice. The Roma left-back was duly assailed with chants of 'mummy's boy''. Fans never forget. Riise almost silenced them with a trademark drive but Mark Shwarzer, the rock of ages, diverted the danger. As the second half began, Riise was again treated to more chants of 'mummy's boy'' and he had the good grace to laugh and applaud the Johnny Haynes stand. Both sets of supporters contributed to a crackling atmosphere, the visiting tifosi setting the tone with a caustic serenade of Mohammed Fayed as Fulham's benefactor walked around the pitch before kick-off. It is to be hoped that Fayed's knowledge of Italian is minimal. They kept singing, kept waving their flags saying 'nothing is impossible'' but their team were given a lesson in intelligent use of possession by Hodgson's side until Ranieri shook things up at the break, particularly by introducing David Pizarro. As nimble and well-drilled as ever, Fulham had kept building from the back, kept the tempo high with Paul Konchesky's left boot briefly resembling a conductor's baton before a knee problem flared up and he did not reappear for the second half. Until then, Konchesky and Greening looked to work the ball down the channels to Bobby Zamora. Under Hodgson's uplifting guidance, Zamora looks a threatening target-man again. Fabio Capello's presence might have whetted Zamora's appetite. Muscular, pacey and full of ambition, Zamora gave the Roma centre-half, Marco Andreolli, a torrid first half. Receiving one ball from Konchesky, Zamora turned and darted towards goal. He might have escaped Andreolli's clutches if the stitching in his shirt had been weaker. Andreolli held and held, almost ripping Zamora's top off. Fulham fans understandably fumed, shouting at the sleepy additional assistant referee stationed to one side of the goal at the Putney End. The Belgian did not move, did not react to the obvious shirt-pulling offence. Michel Platini's master-plan for more officials to keep an eye on offences in the Uefa Europa League is all very laudable but not if they doze off. Zamora still got a shot in, although it deflected off Andreolli, who was still clinging on to the Fulham No 25. No matter. Fulham refused to yield to any frustration, remaining brim full of good ideas and energy. The anticipated Roma backlash had still to arrive so Fulham were able to attack almost at will. After 24 minutes, they had the breakthrough. Riise's corner swirled across in front of the Putney End and there was Hangeland, having lost Andreolli, exploiting Doni's poor attempted punch to head home. Roma revived after the break, particularly when Pizarro was on the ball, but Fulham were almost the next to score. Zamora's cross appeared destined for the unmarked Diomansy Kamara until Philippe Mexes slid in to clear. Zamora then released Kamara but Doni dashed out to grab the ball.
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