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Fulham denied win over Roma

last updated Friday 23rd October 2009, 1:29 PM
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Tom Dart at The Times

Fulham 1 Roma 1

Additional assistants? Additional confusion. At the end of a night in which the wrong decision was made right but was still wrong, a game with a dramatic climax encouraged a definite conclusion: you could have 100 officials overseeing a game and there would still be errors, controversy and mess.

Inside the last 20 minutes of this Europa League group E match, whose denouement was determined by Marco Andreolli's stoppage-time equaliser for Roma, Paul Allaerts, the referee, sent off Brede Hangeland for fouling John Arne Riise in the area and awarded a penalty to Roma. Small problem: Stephen Kelly had made the tackle.

Cue angry protests from the Fulham players to Allaerts and one of the two additional assistant referees, his fellow Belgian, Johan Verbist.

From a player's perspective, it must be nice to have a wider choice of officials to harangue when you disagree with the decision. They did not have to run far to remonstrate with Verbist because he was only a couple of yards from the challenge.

Eventually, the referee showed another red card, to Kelly, and Hangeland stayed on. But it took an absurd length of time before the blunder was corrected, as Allaerts apparently saw no need at first to consult with Verbist.

The guidelines in this season's experiment that involves an additional assistant referee standing behind each goal in the Europa League group stage state that they should intervene only if the referee has not had a clear view of an incident. Perhaps it is a grey area when a referee has seen the incident perfectly, but still makes a hash of his decision.

Hangeland, understandably, was very keen to discuss his red card with the referee when it was brandished. A thousand similar conversations must take place between teachers and schoolchildren every day. "I just told the ref it was not me," the defender said. "And he said, 'Who was it then?' And nobody owned up."

It was thought at one stage that it was Verbist who had incriminated the wrong man, but Hangeland said: "I think it was the fifth official that said it was Kelly. It was a bit of an unlucky way for him to get sent off."

Roy Hodgson, the Fulham manager, argued with justification that the incident was a mistake as well as mistaken identity. "The penalty decision is quite a harsh one," Hodgson said. "I'm not 100 per cent certain there is contact between the players. Certainly the sending-off I can't really understand - Brede Hangeland was coming across to cover.

"It's good that they corrected the blatant error in selecting the wrong man, but I would still like to have seen the assistant close to the incident making it clear to the referee that it was not a sending-off."

In the end, Jeremy Menez took the penalty - and Mark Schwarzer saved it superbly. But Roma found an equaliser seconds before the final whistle when the ball broke to Andreolli on the corner of the six-yard box and he lashed it in off John Paintsil's head and the underside of the crossbar.

It was rough on Fulham who almost spoilt Claudio Ranieri's return to West London with a passionate, pacy and creative display. Fulham's European history is modest, but even clubs with long and rich continental experience would have found plenty to relish in this thrilling match. Pride in the performance, mixed with regret at the result.

"As I've said all along it's the league that's the most important, but when people have put in so much effort to get a victory, it's hard to have that taken away from you in the 93rd minute with the second-last kick of the game," Hodgson said.

He had spoken before the game about the club expecting ten or so European nights this season. On this impressive evidence, they could take part in considerably more, even if he continues to rotate his squad. But the draw and Basle's victory over CSKA Sofia pushed Fulham down a place to second. They face Roma in the Stadio Olimpico in two weeks' time.

"I think Fulham are dangerous," Ranieri said. "They like to attack and I think it'll be difficult in Rome. If we want to go through, we'll have to beat both Fulham and Basle. It's tricky to say who's the favourite."

Hard though it is to believe that Ranieri would tinker with a line-up, the former Chelsea manager made several changes from last Sunday's defeat by AC Milan, and Roma, without Francesco Totti, who has an injured knee, were poor in the first half.

Fulham went ahead midway through it. Bjorn Helge Riise, playing against his brother, sent over a corner headed in by Hangeland as he advanced into the Italian defence like a bulldozer through balsawood.

Roma were far better after the break and dominated possession and territory, but Fulham threatened on the counter-attack and were poised for a famous victory until they were undone - appropriately enough - in additional time.

Fulham (4-4-2): M Schwarzer - S Kelly, A Hughes, B Hangeland, P Konchesky (sub: J Paintsil, 46min) - B H Riise (sub: D Duff, 75), J Greening, C Baird, Z Gera - R Zamora (sub: E Nevland, 62), D Kamara.
Substitutes not used: D Stockdale, C Dempsey, C Smalling, J Anderson.

Sent off: Kelly.

Roma (4-4-2): Doni - N Burdisso, M Andreolli, P Mexès, J A Riise - R Taddei (sub: M Vucinic, 63), D De Rossi, M Brighi (sub: D Pizarro, 46), S Guberti - S Okaka Chuka (sub: S Perrotta, 46), J Menez.
Substitutes not used: B Lobont, J Baptista, L Greco, M Cassetti.

Booked: Vucinic.

Referee: P Allaerts (Belgium).
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