Timmy Adamson and Paul Leeman both said Crusaders were leaving Craven Cottage last night with their heads held high.
The Crues suffered a 4-0 defeat in the second qualifying round of their Europa League battle with Premier League side Fulham, sinking 7-1 on aggregate.
But the visitors’ phenomenal work-rate, and a little slice of luck, ensured the scoreline didn’t flatter the hosts any further.
The Cottagers made the breakthrough on 19 minutes through Andy Johnson and second half strikes from Damien Duff, Bobby Zamora and Steve Sidwell killed off the spirited challenge of the visitors in their new blue away strip.
Adamson, who scored in the first leg and almost netted in west London last night, said he would never forget his first two competitive clashes with Stephen Baxter’s side after joining from Dungannon Swifts.
“It was the best experience of all our football careers,” said Adamson. “Fulham are quality and their quality came through but I thought we gave a great account of ourselves in both legs.
“We can certainly hold our heads high. It’s been the biggest games since the 1970s for the club so we are all delighted. It’s massive for the Irish League and I think we can be proud of the way we played.
“Martin Jol (Fulham’s manager) even came into our dressing room after the game and said ‘well done’, which he doesn’t normally do. I think that speaks volumes about the way we performed.
“The way this club is set up at the minute, they deserve everything they get. Now they are reaping the rewards of all the hard work that has been done.”
Former Glentoran stalwart Paul Leeman is thankful he doesn’t have to tussle with Zamora and Johnson every Saturday in the Carling Premiership.
“You are playing against top class players, we are talking the top of the tree,” said the centre-back. “They are superstars and it’s simply the stuff of dreams for us to be on the same pitch as them.
“Regardless of the scoreline, it was a fantastic experience and we will take a lot out of it in terms of our fitness and the good things that we did and what we can do better. Overall, it’s just been fantastic.
“They kept the ball really well and they are so sharp and fit, that’s the big difference. But we did well at certain spells and it was just their class and strength that came through. It’s easy to forget this team made it to the final of the Europa League, that’s what we were up against. Let’s not kid ourselves, we did all we could and we can be proud of that.”