Hughes 39, Dempsey 43, 49
Martin Jol came face to face with Juande Ramos for the first time since the Spaniard took his job at Tottenham Hotspur as Jol’s Fulham met Ramos’ Dnipro, and undoubtedly left Craven Cottage with a smile on his face knowing a point had been proved.
Jol made four changes from the dour 0-0 draw with Aston Villa. Summer signing Pajtim Kasami was handed his full debut on the right wing, while Stephen Kelly and Matthew Briggs slotted into the full-back positions. It was clear that Jol wanted his team to be fluid. Zamora was left on his own up front when Ukrainians had the ball, but Duff and Dempsey pushed up to form a front three as soon as Murphy or Sidwell brought the ball out from the back.
Both full-backs were encouraged to fly up the touchline to provide a wide option whenever Fulham attacked. After four minutes, Murphy was screaming at full-back Briggs to overlap Duff and offer attacking support. Once the message sank in, the 19-year-old spent more time sprinting past Duff or Dempsey than he did defending the lacklustre Ukrainian attacks.
Ramos had clearly set his side out to pounce on the break, with Derek Boateng and the impressive Denys Kulakov racing forward with the ball at every opportunity. Former Blackburn Rovers striker Nikola Kalinic was the point man for all Dnipro’s moves. Unfortunately he showed the same lack of invention as he had at Blackburn and rarely troubled the excellent Brede Hangeland.
After 30 minutes Fulham seemed to have worked out Ramos’ simple game plan. Minutes after Dnipro’s Boateng, short on ideas, passed the ball straight out of play, Fulham finally opened the scoring. Duff slid a ball past the hapless Guiliano for the overlapping Briggs to swing it into the near post, where Aaron Hughes simply nodded it past former Fulham goalkeeper Jan Latsuvka. It was only Hughes’ second goal for the south London side in over 400 games, but his second in a week following his goal for Northern Ireland last week.
Moments later the always impressive Clint Dempsey found himself completely unmarked 10 yards from goal as Sidwell swung a cross in. The United States international will do well to find as much space as that in which to score again. Jol praised Dempsey after the match: “He’s a special player,” he said, adding: “He could play as a lower 10” up front with Zamora.
Fulham were out promptly after the half-time break, and clearly the message from Jol was more of the same. That is exactly what the Dutchman got. Three minutes in, debutant Kasami swung in a cross after a short corner, which was met by Dempsey to thump past the Dnipro goalkeeper.
Dnipro briefly showed some interest in registering an away goal after that, but the best they could manage was some tame long shots that barely troubled Schwarzer’s goal. The Ukrainians tried to change the game after Fulham’s third, swapping Boateng and Giuliano for the more attacking Roman Zozulya and Denys Oliniyk, but the best they managed was a muddled run from Kalinic which ended in Schwarzer scooping the ball up from his feet. Dnipro started to control the match in the last twenty minutes, but Fulham faced the challenge down with relative ease. Jol warned afterwards: “They’re strong if you let them play like we did in the last twenty minutes.”
Ramos declared afterwards that the result “wasn’t deserved” and that his side had “played well”, but he accepted the chances of progressing where “difficult after that result.” The Ukrainian press pestered Ramos with questions about his position after the game, with him declaring he would not consider resigning and he did not fear for the safety of his job.
In the build up to this match Jol insisted he held no ill feeling towards the man who had forced him out at Tottenham. After easily dispensing with the Spaniard’s Ukrainian team the Dutchman may well consider that everything worked out in the end.