Fulham win marred by injury
Andy Johnson is set to be out of action for up to eight weeks after helping secure a comfortable 3-1 victory over Amkar Perm in Thursday's UEFA Europa League play-off.
Johnson struck the opener after just three minutes but was forced from the pitch midway through the second half following a blatant body-check that sent the England striker sprawling. When he eventually arose from the challenge by Dmitry Belorukov, Johnson prodded his left shoulder before leaving the pitch with his arm dangling.
The incident marred an otherwise successful night for Fulham who established a comfortable lead for the second leg with further goals from Clint Dempsey and Bobby Zamora. New signing Damien Duff, who joined from Newcastle on Tuesday, made his debut from the bench for the last 15 minutes and had a hand in Zamora's goal.
It was a classy finish by Zamora - his third in four games - with the former West Ham marksman also setting up Johnson's opener in another fine display that suggests he was right to reject a summer move to Hull. Vitaliy Grishin ensured Amkar, who sit 13th out of 16 in the Russian Premier League, got on the scoresheet with 15 minutes to go and the goal may shape manager Roy Hodgson's plans for the second leg.
Hodgson was hoping to rest players for next Thursday's return in Perm, a city 1200 kilometres east of Moscow and a five-hour flight, but may have to revise those plans in light of Amkar's away goal. Only three minutes were on the clock when Fulham took the lead through Johnson, though an inspired pass from Zamora was the highlight of the move.
Dempsey put Zamora into space down the left where he delivered a perfect curling ball to the onrushing Johnson who pounced on the simple tap-in. Amkar captain Martin Kushev missed a solid chance amid some encouraging play from the Russian visitors, who were content to keep possession for long spells.
Harried at every turn, Fulham had little space to operate in and were being pinned back for long spells. In a carbon copy of the opening goal, Zamora threaded a long, accurate pass to Johnson but this time defender Belorukov reacted in time and was able to intercept.
Only last-gasp intervention from Zakhary Sirakov prevented the Cottagers from extending their lead as he athletically headed a goalbound Dempsey effort over the crossbar. Kushev took advantage of confusion in Fulham's defence to produce a sharp save from Mark Schwarzer shortly after the interval.
It was a rare dangerous moment from the Russians, who slipped further behind in the 51st minute following a magnificent strike from Dempsey. Dempsey was given too much room on the edge of the area, enabling the American to pick his spot and curl a shot into the top left corner.
The goal failed to dampen Amkar's spirits as they peppered Fulham's penalty area with balls and then forced the departure of Johnson. Duff was brought on and had an immediate impact, crossing to substitute Erik Nevland to instigate Fulham's third.
The Norway striker back headed into the path of Zamora who buried the ball with a blistering shot that gave Narubin no chance. Vitaliy Grishin then drove home a hard left foot shot to pull one back for Amkar to claim a crucial away goal.
"It was a good win against a difficult team but the game has been marred by the unbelievably blatant challenge on Andy Johnson," said Fulham manager Roy Hodgson. "It has dislocated his collarbone and put him out for a long time."
Fulham host Chelsea in Sunday's west London derby before embarking on the second leg against Amkar next Thursday and Hodgson admitted losing Johnson is a bitter blow.
"The best part of our game tonight by a long stretch was the ability of our front two to cause them so many problems," said Hodgson. "They both scored and Bobby set up Andy's goal but now that partnership is broken up for the foreseeable future."
Amkar manager Dimitar Dimitrov vowed his side would overhaul the deficit when Fulham take the five-hour trip to Perm. "In the next game we will create a lot of chances because we will be at home. We are not going to lose," he said.
"It was very important to get the away goal and in the next game we will prove we can score. Our first half tonight wasn't so good but created enough chances in the match."