Our resident Dagenham & Redbridge expert Brian Parish is turning into a secret Cottager we think as he brings us his third report of the season from Fulham’s so far successful Europa League campaign.
So, here we are again, at a Fulham home game in the Europa League. After three comfortable aggregate wins, the 2010 Europa League finalists are just two games from reaching the group stage again. This time though, they will have to get past a team from the Ukraine which throws the spell-check on my laptop in to meltdown; FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.
The club were formed just after the revolution, 1918, and were initially called BRIT, which stood for the Brianskyi Robitnychyi Industrialnyi Teknikum. I would have though that you were not going to be popular if you started to shout “Give us a B..”
The club have had a few other names since, before settling on the current moniker after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Towards the end of the old USSR, the club were twice Soviet champions, reaching the quarter finals of the Champions Cup on two occasions. Their most successful years in the Soviet League were in the 1980’s, winning the national cup in 1989, the Super Cup the year before, and the USSR Federation Cup in 1986 & 1989.
Since independence, they have remained a top side in the Ukraine, but have had to content with the might of Dynamo Kyiv, as well as the last Ukrainian team to win a European trophy, Shaktar Donetsk. The best that the club has managed in the league since the formation of the Ukrainian League is second in 1993.
Those travelling out to the Ukraine for the return game next week will get a chance to see the new Dnipro Arena, which is just three years old, can accommodate just over 31,000 but won’t be hosting games at next year’s European Championships. And if any England fans are reading this, then it’s also the arena where England suffered their only defeat in qualification for the 2010 World Cup.
This is the first round that Dnipro have had to play in this year’s competition, having finished fourth in their league last season, although they have already been busy in the domestic competition. They have already completed six game, although these have not gone quite to plan; two wins, two draws and two defeats has the club currently in ninth place (out of sixteen), and last weekend, they were beaten 1-3 at home by Shaktar Donetsk.
Fulham started off the season with a 0-0 draw at home to Aston Villa, although they have progressed in this competition with reasonable ease. Tonight though is a toughie, as these games are notoriously difficult to call.
Thursday 18th August 2011, Fulham v FC Dnipro, Craven Cottage
There have been three qualifying rounds so far, so naturally UEFA call this the play off round, rather than the fourth qualifying round, which is what it actually is. Why this is, I have no idea, but it probably seemed like a great idea at the planning meeting. There was, no doubt, lots of blue sky thinking and all that kind of stuff.
We’ve got seats in the Riverside Stand again, simply because the view of the Thames outside the stand on a sunny evening can’t be beat. However, thanks to a signal failure just past Earls Court, we are a bit later than normal, and as well as that, it’s pouring down. So on the brisk walk from the station to the ground, we are getting soaked, and having to dodge the lakes that are forming quite rapidly in Bishops Park.
Once in the ground, we find our seats, and within about ten minutes, the teams are on their way out to start the game. The first chance is created on the left hand side, when an excellent pass from Hangeland finds the advancing Matthew Briggs who beats his defender before striking his shot straight at the Dnipro goalkeeper, Jan Lastuvka. The resultant corner produces nothing, but it’s an early sign that he could be much the busier of the keepers.
Fulham then take another ten minutes or so to create another chance, which is a Steve Sidwell header at Lastuvka. Fulham are sending most of their attacks down their left hand side, and are really having a go at the right back for the Ukrainian side, Denys Kulakov. He really doesn’t look as though he plays in the position too often, and a quick glance at the programme lists him as a midfielder, so that is clearly why Fulham are looking to Briggs and Damien Duff to attack on that side.
For the majority of the remaining time in the first half, Dnipro look content to sit back and try to get something on the break. Fulham press, but are not threatening on too many occasions, and although the defending is a bit on the “last-ditch” side at times, they are coping with the threat of Zamora and Pajtim Kasami. Nikola Kalinic, their recent signing from Blackburn Rovers, has a couple of efforts which trouble the crowd in the Hammersmith End more than Mark Schwarzer.
Just when it looks as though their plan might be working, Fulham make the breakthrough. A left wing corner is taken short and the eventual cross is put over by Matthew Briggs. The final touch is credited to Aaron Hughes, although from our position at the other end of the stadium, it’s not clear. Still, David “Diddy” Hamilton calls it, and who are we to argue?
Still Dnipro look to sit back although to be fair they don’t have a lot of time before Fulham make the score 2-0. This time the attack is down the right hand side; the ball is passed out wide by Danny Murphy to Stephen Kelly, who just touches the ball back to Sidwell who crosses into the area. The Dnipro defence has all magically gone to sleep at the same time, as Clint Dempsey is allowed to wonder into the area and put the ball into the net. It’s a well worked goal, and gives Fulham the lead that their display has so far deserved.
At half time, we discuss the possibility of Fulham making the group stage of the competition, as well as finding out that Spurs are winning in Scotland. We both agree (and it’s also the considered opinion of those around us), that a third goal wouldn’t go amiss. As long as Fulham keep a clean sheet, then another goal should make the tie almost done and dusted.
We don’t have to wait long for the third goal; four minutes in fact have elapsed of the half when the tie looks to be over. Clint Dempsey claims his second of the night when a quickly taken corner is not defended properly, and Dempsey has a free header to make it 3-0. While the celebrations are going on, Lastuvka is going absolutely mental at his defence for going missing. For a while it looks as though he is going to run off and throw himself in the Thames, but manages to calm down enough to resume his position in goal.
It’s only now that Dnipro start to look interested in going forward. A long range free kick is tipped over by Schwarzer, but most of their efforts are limited to attempts at goal from outside the penalty area, which are either comfortably wide, or force Schwarzer into fairly comfortable saves.
I mentioned earlier that the Dnipro right back didn’t look like a normal right back; over a twenty minute period in the second half, he took four throw in’s that were as close to a foul throw as it’s possible to be without actually being one. How the officials didn’t spot it, I will never know, but once the crowd had alerted the referee for the fourth time, it was clear that he twigged that he would be watched and he managed to perform a legal throw. Overall, this was one game that Kulakov probably won’t look back on with any sense of pride.
Aside from the substitutions, Dnipro manage a couple of close efforts, but a goal back would have been harsh on Fulham. The best effort for the visitors over the whole evening is a long range volley from Vitaliy Denisov, which brings a good save from Schwarzer. Zamora has an effort which goes over the bar, but Fulham look to have lost a fair amount of their momentum when Murphy and Duff were replaced with 25 minutes to go.
Fulham will be more than happy with a 3-0 win, and that is reflected in overhead comments as we walk back to the station. It’s raining again, and it’s a quick walk back, via the main road. The general mood is that the score was slightly more than they could have hoped for, and the faithful are clearly confident of another European tour this season. There is still some danger in the second leg, as Dnipro must surely feel that they are not out of the tie yet. However, it’s going to take a disastrous performance for Fulham not to go through, and on the evidence of tonight, it shouldn’t happen.
Having called the previous rounds, the first qualifying, second qualifying and then third qualifying, this is known as the play-off round. What’s wrong with the fourth qualifying round? Not glamorous enough?