Speechless. Roy Hodgson has guided us to many stupendous results, but this was on another level altogether. Never have we had to deal with an onslaught like that.
It started very well. We nearly went ahead in 30 seconds, and did go ahead in 2 minutes, Zoltan Gera driving home from the inside left channel.
Any hopes that we might have caught Shakhtar on an off day were soon dashed when we didn’t see the ball again for 45 minutes. Their tempo was extraordinary. Slow passes around the defence, all the time in the world, then in the blink of an eye the team was skitting around our area. How? Their change of pace and movement was like nothing we’ve seen before. Their attacking play was like that of a basketball team in a hurry, all flips and dinks and all perfectly controlled.
A goal had to come and did, Luiz Adriano scorching onto a through ball and rounding Schwarzer for a scintillating and thoroughly deserved equaliser.
We think of players like Danny Murphy and Simon Davies as good technicians, but the Shakhtar players were light years ahead of the best we could offer. That they only broke through once is a testament to our defence. That we got back into the game is down to the manager. At half time the task seemed hopeless, but the players had to get the ball in the Shakhtar half, had to keep it better, and had to hold a higher line to keep the orange and black attackers away from our penalty area.
And somehow it worked. Fulham noticeably upped the tempo, and while the moves lacked the cohesion of Shakhtar’s efforts, it re-established us in the game, proved that we weren’t going to take this lying down. Gera and Zamora were intelligent in leading the line, using the ball increasingly well and pressuring to just the right extent without the ball. The game became cat-and-mouse: Shakhtar passed patiently, waiting for a Fulham player to lose his position, waiting for someone to over-commit, but the whites stood firm and didn’t budge, and soon the game was even again.
And then… Hangeland passed through to Gera, Gera’s balletic flick to Zamora, Zamora thumps home from 25 yards with his right foot, flicking the bar, buried in the net. A howitzer, a monster, an absolute screamer, and somehow we’re ahead, and somehow we’re still in the tie, and somehow we’re about to beat the UEFA cup holders and one of the best teams I’ve ever seen.
This is where we are now. This is what we can do. This is football at its best, as good as we will see.
(After that slightly excitable initial ending, a quiet word for Stephen Kelly. The left-back has had a difficult time of late, but put in a shift and a half tonight. Some of his tackling was from the top drawer. That took guts, ability, and some sturdy help from Simon Davies. Well done to him.)