Thursday, June 30, 2011 ESPNsoccernet: July 1, 2:20 PM UK
Jol enjoys comfortable debut win
Mark Lomas, Craven Cottage
Just 38 days after sharing a 2-2 draw with Arsenal on the final day of the Premier League season and a full 44 days before the curtain is raised on the new domestic term, Martin Jol's tenure as Fulham boss began with a European night at Craven Cottage that forgivably lacked some of the sparkle of encounters past.
When the Cottagers advanced all the way to the 2010 Europa League final before being denied a night of glory by a Diego Forlan brace, they dispatched the likes of Juventus, Hamburg and Shakhtar Donetsk on the banks of the Thames; on Thursday, it was Faroe Islanders NSI Runavik who provided the considerably less illustrious opposition.
Nonetheless, 14,190 bodies packed into the Cottage to watch Jol's charges canter to a fully expected victory, many of them sporting souvenir scarves and caps to provide tangible memories of that special night 13 months ago. Those who need convincing of the merits of the Europa League, and of Fulham's acceptance of a place this time around through the Fair Play League, need only spend two minutes asking a misty-eyed Cottagers fan about their trip to the Hamburg final.
Jol may have a first win to his name - the 3-0 scoreline proving slightly less emphatic than most had hoped - but there is much to be done before the Dutchman can call this his Fulham team; it is not even Mark Hughes' Fulham team. Roy Hodgson's enduring imprint is impossible to ignore, exemplified by the fact that nine of the starting XI against NSI also started the Europa League final against Atletico Madrid. Jol did show some movement away from Hodgson's influence, however, with the selection of young Matthew Briggs at left-back - the same Briggs who was made the League's youngest ever player when given his debut by Lawrie Sanchez in 2007.
That was to be the only Briggs played under Sanchez, but an accomplished performance against NSI, where he showed both defensive maturity and plenty of attacking intent, suggests that under Jol he has a real chance of playing more than the four matches he managed last season.
Those who came with a sense of intrigue about the personnel on show may have come away a touch disappointed to see most of the same old faces on show, but it is far too early to read anything into Jol's selections and, in his post-match press conference, the Dutchman promised fans that they can expect new arrivals in the coming weeks. Asked if he had learnt anything new about his players, he simply answered: "No".
The game itself played out in a rather predictable fashion, with NSI setting themselves up ultra defensively - playing a 4-5-1 formation that ended up being more like 5-4-1 with Justinus Hansen dropping from patrolling defensive midfielder to third centre-back - and inviting Fulham to attack. The Faroese club have now made it into Europe in seven of the past nine seasons, certainly a commendable achievement, but exits at the first round of qualifying in each of their previous attempts is indicative of the dramatic gulf in class that separates them from much of the rest of the continent.
Fulham added three more goals to make it 38 conceded and five scored in 13 European games for NSI; Damien Duff, Danny Murphy and Andrew Johnson all able to boast that their first competitive goals of 2011-12 were scored in June. The strength of Jol's line-up, after he had suggested several younger players might have been included, demonstrated that the Dutchman was keen to put the tie beyond doubt in the first leg and spare his players a laborious trip to the Faroe Islands, which would serve to interrupt pre-season preparations.
At times it looked like it might not come so easily, though, and despite having more than a hint of pre-season friendly about it, the heroics of FSI goalkeeper Andras Gango - who denied Zamora, Johnson and Aaron Hughes - threatened to frustrate Fulham and the increasingly impatient Craven Cottage crowd.
But the excellent Duff, looking like he had never been away, opened the scoring before half-time to ease the tension, sweeping a left-foot shot in from the edge of the penalty box after an interchange between Simon Davies and Bobby Zamora. Jol praised Duff's contribution after the game, revealing he had tried to sign the Irishman when he was Spurs boss. "Every time he's got the ball, he looks dangerous," Jol said. "Years ago I wanted him at Spurs, but he went to Newcastle. I'm happy that he's here now."
Soon after the interval, Johnson was felled inside the area and Murphy converted from the spot, before Johnson added a third himself in what was a wholly comfortable victory; Jol admitted afterwards that "the only disappointing thing is that we only scored three goals".
The Fulham players looked in good shape throughout and there were certainly no signs of misspent holidays lapping up the lager in Lanzarote; for the Fulham fans, though, it is champagne not beer that will be on their minds as dreams of glory in Bucharest next May begin.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Damien Duff. Jol said in his programme notes that he viewed the match as opportunity for the players "to show what they can do" and Duff did just that, demonstrating nimble footwork, and penetrating dribbling, as well as opening the scoring for good measure.
FULHAM VERDICT: A solid, if unspectacular performance from the Cottagers. Positives to be taken were Matthew Briggs' performance at left-back as well as a cameo from young Finnish striker Lauri Dalla Valle. There were signs that Andrew Johnson and Bobby Zamora could work well together as a strike partnership, something that pleased Jol greatly. "I think they are both terrific players, we have been trying to work them together. One is the target man, one stretches them," the Dutchman said.
NSI RUNAVIK VERDICT: A volleyed first-half effort from Justinus Hansen was pretty much the only moment to get the tiny collection of away supporters on their feet, but the result could have been much worse were it not for their goalkeeper; the Faroese side can live in hope of stealing a goal in the second leg against what will surely be an under-strength Fulham side.
GAME, SET AND MATCH: The post-match presser deteriorated into a discussion about tennis, with Jol explaining his annoyance at not being able to make it to Wimbledon yet. "I haven't been this year," Jol said. "Hopefully we can go there in the next couple of days."