No happy ending in Roy's own adventure! Hodgson's Fulham in Europa League heartbreak

13 May 2010 07:18
Of course, it had to go to extra time. Not content with 19 games in the Europa League this season, Fulham extended their 63rd game of the season by an extra half-hour, only to lose with barely four minutes remaining. There were some very tired legs out there at the end of a gruelling 120 minutes.

Captain Danny Murphy, the heartbeat of Fulham's midfield, was taken off with two minutes to go after a poor clearance. His head had gone, too. It is no wonder.

Last stand: Diego Forlan jumps for joy after his first goal gives Atletico the lead

They have fought volcanic ash clouds, dubious red cards, injuriesand suspensions and seen off the UEFA Cup holders, German champions andthe mighty Juventus in a remarkable campaign.

But a team who have won just three Europa League matches all season - compared to Fulham's 11 - proved to be a bridge too far.

Atletico Madrid had needed a Diego Forlan goal in the 90th minute tobeat Galatasary in the last 32, and only away goals saw them throughagainst Sporting Lisbon, Valencia and Liverpool.

It was Forlan, once again, the scourge of English teams of late, whosettled it last night. It makes a mockery of this competition to thinkthree wins in the Europa League is enough to take home the prize.

But if football was about fairness, the 33lb trophy would be winging its way to west London. Not since the FA Cup final of 1975 have the club had a day out quite like this.

Fulham's great and good flocked to Hamburg to watch their club grace the greatest stage in the club's 131-year history. There was pop star Lily Allen, in tears at the final whistle, Hammersmith-born actor Hugh Grant and, of course, the man who has just sold the most famous corner shop in the world, Mohamed Al Fayed, whose millions made all this possible.

Up for the battle: Murphy's Fulham were undone by an extra-time winner

Whoever thought they would see David 'Diddy' Hamilton, match day compere at Craven Cottage, suspended on a raised platform in front of them with a microphone in his hand before a major European final.

Who could have predicted little old Fulham, would come so agonisingly close to pulling off the most romantic of Cup upsets. Defying the odds has become a habit for this team, who were 40-1 at the start of the competition.

Forlan and Sergio Aguero ran them ragged in the first half as Fulham gave the ball away with unusual frequency. But one attack and a burst of individual brilliance from Bobby Zamora levelled affairs. Simon Davies supplied a scintillating volley to level.

Heartbreak: Zamora fought through the pain barrier

Watching Aguero roll the ball inches wide of Schwarzer's right-hand post in the first period of extra-time was a heart-stopping moment but, until Forlan's crushing winner, the Fulham fans still believed.

Not until the Uruguayan striker wheeled away in celebration, leaving Brede Hangeland face-down and motionless in the six-yard box was it finally over.

Roy Hodgson' s expression remained, as ever, stoic and devoid of emotion as he watched it all slip away. 'In Woy we twust' and 'Roy for Prime Minister' read the banners that reflect the impact he has had in just two-and-a-half years at Fulham.

He did not quite manage to become the first English manager since Sir Bobby Robson to lift a major European trophy, but he came damn close.

As he admitted, it will not lessen the pain of defeat but, in time, Hodgson and his players should look back with immense pride. There will be no Europa League nights at Craven Cottage next season, but Hodgson has said he has no desire to leave west London.

Staying put: Hodgson says he will remain at Fulham

The chance for a final crack at managing a big club may, however,prove too enticing for the 62-year-old. Al Fayed, £1.5billion richerthis week after selling Harrods, will back his manager with money inthe transfer market, but there will be no big names heading to Fulhamthis summer. 

This team is not built on stars, but on players whom Hodgson canmould into his way of playing. The repetitive drills on the trainingground may get tiresome, but many players will relish the opportunityto follow Damien Duff, Murphy and Simon Davies and reignite theircareer on Hodgson's watch.

Fulham can also look forward tothe return of Andrew Johnson, the £10.5m signing who has missed themajority of this season through injury.

His name has barelybeen mentioned since Zamora found his goalscoring form, but he will beback, hoping to depose Zoltan Gera, who has been outstanding. ErikNevland and Chris Smalling are two players who have played their lastgames for Fulham, but there will not be many more following them out ofthe door.

Don't forget, this likeable little club becameeveryone's second favourite English team as they enacted the mostimprobable of fairytales this season.

There might not have been the happy ending Fulham craved but it has certainly been one hell of a journey.

 Atletico Madrid 2 Fulham 1: Diego Forlan stuns Roy's heroes - Cottagers' hearts are broken by late strikeHamburg match zone: Poor Lily Allen is reduced to tears All the action from the Europa League final - as it happened FULHAM FC

Source: Daily_Mail