Have you ever see Craven Cottage so vibrant?
Have you ever seen 25,000 supporters with such wide smiles on their faces and an 18 game European journey ended with a place in the inaugural Europa League Final?
I didn`t walk home, I floated on a wave of jubilation, I sat in my favourite armchair, unable to speak, unable to do anything and not quite believing that ‘little old` Fulham had done something so remarkable. And do you know what makes it even more satisfying, the fact that we thoroughly deserve our place in the final, we`ve stared into the face of adversity and overcome the challenges it`s thrown in our direction and we`ve done in a manner in which we can be proud!
The Nordbank Arena awaits us!
The night had that special feel about it from the moment Al Fayed did his walk around the pitch, the vociferous Hamburg supporters added to the occasion but the normally quite reserved Fulham supporters didn`t let their club down and even before kick off the hairs on the back of your neck were standing up.
Pre-match Fulham got the bonus they wanted when Bobby Zamora was named in the starting eleven having had an injection to numb the pain in his niggling Achilles injury. In fact the only change form the starting eleven that ground out a 0-0 in Hamburg last week was the introduction of John Pantsil for Chris Baird.
Fulham started brightly and could have taken an early lead when Zamora exchanged passes with Zoltan Gera but the keeper, Rost, saved and Zamora couldn`t get the rebound on target with the ball going just wide. Brede Hangeland continued to force the issue for the home side but his header, from a corner, was too high.
After the initial burst from Fulham, Hamburg started to get a foot-hold in the game but a succession of crosses into the box were easily dealt with by the resilient Fulham defence. When danger was present, with Jarolim looking to find Petric, the dependable Aaron Hughes was there to mop up any threat.
Unfortunately, the situation we feared occurred in the twenty-second minute when Hamburg opened the scoring and got that crucial away goal. Danny Murphy was penalised for a foul on Ze Roberto and Mladen Petric stepped up to curl a wonderful free kick, past Mark Schwarzer, and into the top corner of the goal.
Fulham now had it all to do!
Pushing forward, Simon Davies saw a free kick go wide before Hamburg tried to turn the screw and put the tie out of Fulham`s reach. Jonathan Pitroipa thought he`d scored but the linesman had his flag raised for offside. Moments later the same player shot just wide, as half time approached, and Fulham were hanging on in there.
The second half started with the Craven Cottage faithful not having given up hope although it was clear that the talisman that is Bobby Zamora was limping badly. With fifty-seven minutes completed Bobby Zamora conceded he was in no position to continue and was replaced by Clint Dempsey.
Aaron Hughes, effective as ever at the back, did well to a low ball from Petric getting into the danger area. With sixty nine minutes played Fulham were back on level terms. The goal came after Danny Murphy launched a ball into the box, Simon Davies controlled it and flicked it past Rost before wheeling away in celebration. Craven Cottage erupted and Fulham were back in this tie.
Seven minutes later even old Father Thames cheered when Fulham took the lead. A corner from Simon Davies bounced off Dernel and straight into the path of Zoltan Gera who wasn`t going to waste the opportunity by slamming it home.
Fulham were in front and Craven Cottage was rocking!
With a little over fifteen minutes to hang on but the only real trouble came when a defensive error presented Ruud van Nistelrooy with a half chance but the ex-Manchester United striker screwed his effort well wide.
At the final whistle there were scenes from both ends of the emotional scale. Fulham`s players danced with delight, hugging each other, whilst the crest-fallen Hamburg players just couldn`t believe that their dream of playing in the Europa League Final, in their own stadium, had been denied them by ‘little-old` Fulham!
Nordbank Arena here we come!
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