Parking the bus puts Fulham in the driving seat

AFTER spending 17 hours on a bus, Roy Hodgson parked it right in front of the Fulham goal as the Cottagers’ Europa League magical mystery tour took them within sight of a grand finale back here in Hamburg next month.

Although their German opponents dominated possession at the Nordbank Arena, they never really looked like breaking through until a late flurry.

The two sides will reconvene in a week’s time at Craven Cottage with Roy Hodgson’s men hopeful of getting the win that would seal a first European final.

There is still work to do of course, and Ruud van Nistelrooy must be kept quiet by a defence that will lack the suspended Chris Baird, but there was enough evidence to suggest Fulham’s 18th match in a European campaign that began in Lithuania nine months ago will not be their last.

Fulham captain Danny Murphy was happy with the way his side contained Hamburg. “They’re a good side with great attacking players and we knew they’d come at us,” he said.

“We talked about keeping our shape and other than two saves in the last 15-20 minutes we had a reasonably comfortable night. With a bit more quality on the break we might have had a chance ourselves.”

Fulham boss Roy Hodgson praised his players for the way they had handled things. “I think we have got to be very happy with the result when it has been such an effort to get here,” he said.

“It’s not normal to travel virtually two days but we were determined not to use it as an excuse. I do think now we can take some credit.

“You can’t put these things out of your mind. You can’t prepare well when you have to spend two days on a bus, but that didn’t show in the game.”

There was one worry for Fulham with Bobby Zamora coming off with a recurrence of his Achilles injury.

“He does have an Achilles problem and we’re trying to manage it as well as possible,” Hodgson added. “We were a bit concerned about it and he was complaining about it before the game.

“I’ve not had a chance to talk to the medical staff yet, but it will be a problem for the weekend, that’s for certain, because of the travelling.

“I’ve not ruled him out yet but I would bet on him not playing.”

Hamburg dominated possession in the first half, but Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer was largely underemployed. That was primarily due to the efforts of a watertight defence, marshalled superbly by Aaron Hughes and Brede Hangeland, and the screening midfield talents of Danny Murphy.

It might not have been the greatest spectacle but the hardy 1,000 or so Fulham fans who had made it to northern Germany were not fussed.

And if David Jarolim had not stretched out to intercept a Zoltan Gera cross bound for Bobby Zamora’s replacement Clint Dempsey on the hour, the Cottagers would have been in dreamland.

Hamburg responded with their most productive spell of the game. Jonathan Pitroipa, Piotr Trochowski and Jarolim all scorched Schwarzer’s fingers to various degrees but the tie remained goalless.

Subs for Hamburg: Petric for Guerrero, Rincon for Demel 82,

Sub for Fulham: Dempsey for Zamora, 52.

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