Despite sounding like a Kevin Keegan hairdo in the 1970s, Amkar Perm showed that they were a handy side last night. Either that or Fulham were very, very casual. With Chelsea coming up on Sunday, I'm hoping it is the former.
A very early goal, possibly the earliest I have seen Fulham score, did not reflect the first half at all, with Amkar having plenty of the ball. The goal itself was class though, with Bobby Zamora's pass to Andy Johnson beautifully cutting out both defenders and goalkeeper, allowing AJ to pop it over the keeper into the back of the net.
Amkar controlled the ball for most of the half with Danny Murphy having a particularly torrid time in the middle of the park. Whether this was rustiness or that fact that Amkar's strategy was to get at the captain, far too many of his passes missed the mark and he couldn't pull the strings as well as normal. Despite this Fulham had another two great chances before the break, one of which needed an acrobatic clearance by an Amkar defender.
The Russians seemed to be far more superior in the air than Fulham which caused a lot of problems in the home team's penalty area from corners, but the whites were far better in the second half. After seeing the crowd jump on Zoltan Gera's back for playing a poor pass when he could in fact have had a shot on goal, Clint Dempsey smashed one into the top corner from 20 yards. It was an absolute beauty, leaving the Amkar keeper sprawling.
That's when it all went a bit weird. AJ pounced on a loose ball at the back, knocked the ball past the last defender, went to follow it and got taken out by the mother of all cynical bodychecks. As last man, Dmitry Belorukov should have been shown the red card, but the referee bottled it. AJ stayed down for a while and then wandered off the pitch. I thought Hodgson substituted him as a precaution with Chelsea on the horizon, but it turns out he has dislocated his collarbone.
I had a similar injury playing pub football as a 17 year old way back in the mists of time, when running onto a long ball I collided with an outrushing goalkeeper and broke my collarbone. I was out for six months. AJ will only(!) be out for 4-8 weeks, but you've got to ask whether it will have any psychological damage. How reluctant, albeit subconsciously, will he become to try and ghost past players after this experience? I think, given the number of times he has been clattered in the penalty area and just brushed himself off, he'll be okay. Brave man, AJ.
Anyway, the referee compounded his mistake by not allowing Fulham to make the substitution when the ball went out of play for a thrown-in. Zamora was apoplectic with rage at this. I think that the referee would have booked Konchesky for time wasting had he not taken the thrown in rather than wait for the common sense approach of allowing a team to replace an injured player.
The Portuguese referee had a poor second half to be truthful. Every little touch in the first half which ended up being a foul was suddenly legal in the second half. He also booked Dempsey when the ball bounced up and hit him on the hand. I've never seen Woy so angry and animated in post-match interviews as he was here because of the ref's handling of the game.
Anyway old Belorukov got the pantomime treatment everytime the ball came his way. He also got 10,000 people laughing at him when Clint Dempsey crashed a freekick against his face as he stood in the wall. That's karma for you.
New boy Duff came on and ridiculously set up a goal with his first bout of possession. He turned down the wing, crossed it into the box for fellow substitute Nevland to knock it back for the rejuvenated Zamora to crash in a third.
This should have been game set and match, but Fulham contrived to make next week's tie so much trickier than it needed be by conceding an away goal almost immediately afterwards - midfielder Grishin crashing the ball into the top corner from an angle. In fairness, it was no more than Amkar deserved over the course of the match, although they had not had many shots on target. Certainly 3-0 would have been very flattering to a loose Fulham side.
But that away goal means that Amkar only need a 2-0 victory their plastic pitch next week. The pessimist in me is worried that this is achievable for the busy Russian side. Although they should have been without the services of their anti-football centre-half for the next leg, fate will probably decree that he'll score the decisive goal. That would be very Fulhamish.