Crusaders give Fulham stars a fright
Sometimes scorelines don't tell the whole story of a match and Fulham's 3-1 victory fails to reflect the spirited showing from Crusaders at Seaview last night.
The truth is that not even Mohamed Al Fayed's millions could buy Fulham a comfortable win in north Belfast.
This was a performance full of commitment and desire from the Carling Premiership underdogs and until the final 16 minutes it appeared that new boy Timmy Adamson's sublime strike would reward them with an incredible draw against Premier League opponents.
The Fulham chairman may have taken the controversial step of erecting a Michael Jackson statue outside the London ground, but someone should have informed him that Crusaders can produce a few thrillers of their own.
The romance of the game was clearly visible as 2,500 fans packed into a venue refurbished for such special occasions.
Europa Cup finalists in 2010, Fulham were everyone's favourites to breeze into the third qualifying round and they have finished the job but Stephen Baxter's side fulfilled their promise of showing plenty of spirit and little fear.
A bunch of part-timers playing their first competitive fixture of the season were expected to be torn apart by a side who finished eighth in the Premier League this year.
But, inspired by Glentoran's and Linfield's response to daunting challenges on the European stage, the Crues made life very uncomfortable for a team packed with international talent.
It took a sensational strike from Matthew Briggs to fire Fulham in front but Adamson's 54th minute equaliser had the Hatchetmen in dreamland.
But a Bobby Zamora header and Danny Murphy penalty ensured manager Martin Jol wasn't throwing tea-cups around at the finish.
Paul Leeman replaced the suspended Colin Coates for his Crusaders bow and there were also debuts for striker Adamson and goalkeeper Sean O'Neill.
Northern Ireland duo Aaron Hughes and Chris Baird were both included in a strong Fulham line-up boasting the formidable attacking prowess of Zamora, Andy Johnson and Damien Duff.
Crusaders were more than a match for their more glamorous opponents in the opening 10 minutes but when Duff let fly in the 11th minute, his drive stung the hands of the diving O'Neill.
O'Neill was called into action again in the 20th minute punching a low shot from Karim Frei around the post.
It looked like something special was required to unlock the Crues defence and it arrived on 39 minutes. The hosts thought they had cleared their lines until Briggs met the ball just inside the penalty box with a piledriver that flew beyond O'Neill into the roof of the net. It was the left-back's first goal for the London side and the 20-year-old will have cherished memories of it for the rest of his career.
In the second half, Briggs then made a vital intervention in defence, taking the ball away from the toes of David McMaster as the winger was about to see his name written in lights.
Baird then found O'Neill difficult to pass as his long range drive was gathered at the base of the post.
On 54 minutes, Adamson produced his moment of magic. Collecting a flick on from Jordan Owens, he lifted the ball over a stunned Hughes with his right foot and used his left foot to volley an angled drive low into the net off the post.
Ten minutes later Adamson was inches away from grabbing his second when he shook the crossbar after Stuart Dallas invited him to shoot.
But there was to be no fairytale draw for the Crues on a memorable evening as Duff's right wing corner was headed firmly past O'Neill by Zamora in the 74th minute and three minutes later Paul Leeman handled Johnson's shot in the box and Murphy slotted the spot-kick beyond O'Neill.
Crusaders: O'Neill; McKeown, McBride, Leeman, Magowan, McCann, Adamson, Dallas (Gargan 71), McMaster, Watson (Faulkner 86), Owens (Rainey 83). Subs not used: Murphy, Halliday, Gibson, Roy.
Fulham: Schwarzer; Hangeland, Hughes, Johnson (B Riise 76), Murphy, Briggs, Baird, Etuhu (Sidwell 76), Frei, Zamora, Duff (Donegan 86). Subs not used: Stockdale, Kelly, Senderos, Halliche.
Referee: Clement Turpin (France).