Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Zolt from blue sees Fulham through

Fulham 2 Hamburg 1 (Fulham won 2-1 on aggregate)

Zoltan Gera hailed his matchwinner in last night's Europa League semi-final against Hamburg as the “most important goal” of his career.

The Hungarian struck after 76 minutes at Craven Cottage to cap a fine comeback by the hosts and book Fulham's place in the final against Atletico Madrid.

Trailing to Mladen Petric's spectacular first half free-kick, Fulham's European adventure spanning 18 games appeared to have reached the end.

But they staged a spirited fightback with Simon Davies producing a wonderfully-taken equaliser in the 70th minute before Gera struck the winner shortly after.

“It's the most important goal I have ever scored so I'm very, very happy. It's amazing,” Gera said. “We did so well, every single player.”

Fellow goalscorer Davies was equally thrilled by the performance and credited Fulham boss Roy Hodgson as the motivation behind the second-half fightback.

“The manager said at half-time keep playing your football and you'll get your rewards, and we did so we're buzzing,” said the Welshman.

“We've played some great teams (in this competition) and come from behind. Everyone was amazing tonight.”

Danny Murphy, whose pass set up Davies for the leveller, added: “It just keeps getting better.

“When we went a goal behind it would have been easy to think this was the end of the journey, but I thought the spirit we showed in the second half was tremendous.”

Goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer also paid tribute to both his team-mates and manager after one of the most famous nights in the west London club's history.

“This team has got an unbelievable amount of spirit and character to come back from a goal down,” said the Australian.

“They really did rock us and it took us a while to get going again.

“He (Hodgson) has been fantastic since day one when I arrived at the club, and every player can vouch for that.”

Northern Ireland captain Aaron Hughes played his part in the stunning success, though his international team-mate Chris Baird was suspended.

Hodgson felt his players had pulled off a “major piece of history” in reaching next month's final in Hamburg.

“After going a goal down against the run of play, I think we've made a major piece of history here tonight. That atmosphere is something I think we'll all remember for a long time,” Hodgson said. “I'm a little bit drained of emotion at this particular moment in time — you go through a bit of a rollercoaster out there.

“I've had two and a bit years now where I know the players are never going to let me down and are always going to go out and try to do the things we practise. In a semi-final I suppose they could be excused for losing their heads or losing their discipline, but they didn't do it tonight.”

After leading the Cottagers to seventh place in the Barclays Premier League last season, Hodgson has arguably emulated that achievement in this campaign, and the experienced manager concedes his time in the capital has exceeded expectations.

“The time at Fulham has been quite magical for me,” he said.

“From the moment I came here I established an immediate rapport with the chairman and he's given us the backing we need. It's certainly a reward for those very faithful Fulham fans who have seen some bad times and who can now boast they're going to see their team play in a European final.”

It was, though, no easy ride for Fulham as a stunning 30-yard free-kick from Mladen Petric put the Germans in control.

However, Hodgson's side fought back to level through a fine finish from Davies, before Gera fired in a winner with 17 minutes left to send Fulham to an unlikely, but hugely deserved, first European final.

They’re living the dream and aiming to land the final blow.

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