Fulham’s involvement in this season’s FA Cup got underway on this crisp and wintry, but sun-kissed January afternoon at Craven Cottage.
League One Swindon provided the opposition in this Third Round tie, and their fans packed the Putney End, visiting London with the hope of seeing their side cause a cup upset and add another win to their impressive record against the Whites over the years in this competition.
But Roy Hodgson’s team of 2010 had no intention of following in the footsteps of Fulham sides from years gone by, such as the star-studded line-up featuring George Best, Rodney Marsh and Bobby Moore that suffered at the Robins’ hands in 1976.
Still in the midst of a busy fixture schedule, Roy, celebrating the signing of a new contract this week, made several changes to the side which had come so close to winning at Chelsea just days earlier.
At right-back, Stephen Kelly stepped in for the injured John Pantsil, whilst Chris Smalling kept his place instead of Brede Hangeland. Kagisho Dikgacoi and Jonathan Greening filled in the centre of midfield, whilst one of the stars of the Whites’ Europa League campaign, Bjorn Helge Riise, took up his place on the right wing.
The biggest cheer when the teams were announced, however, was reserved for Andy Johnson, making his first start since early October.
Despite the hopes of the travelling fans’ vociferous support, Fulham started the brighter, and inside the first two minutes Riise created the first chance of the match for Bobby Zamora when he carried the ball from inside his own half to the edge of the visitors’ penalty area. There he laid it left to the striker who, after cutting inside, rolled his shot just wide of David Lucas’ left post.
It was an early warning for the visitors from the man being talked about as a possible England striker, and it was he that would add further weight to such claims when he broke the deadlock just after the quarter hour.
Stephen Kelly’s long pass sent Zamora
into the box on the right-hand-side and, bearing down on goal, he held off some desperate challenges, keeping his composure and his feet, to clip the ball over the out-rushing Lucas and give Fulham the lead.
The goal, his 11th of the season, seemed to awaken the visitors though, and within minutes Schwarzer was forced to make his first real save of the afternoon as he got down low to deny a powerful Hutchinson drive from the edge of the penalty area. Although the strike was initially too hot to handle, the big Aussie was quick to smother the ricochet before Daniel Ward could get to it.
In a generally tight first period when flowing passing moves were something of a rarity, just before the half hour Fulham created an excellent sequence down the right as Riise played a sweet one-two with Zamora. The Norwegian then made it to the by-line and played in a tantalising cross which Johnson couldn’t quite meet. At the back post, Douglas managed to scrap the ball away from Dempsey, and from there the visitors defended excellently to see off any further danger.
Despite the hosts’ superior possession, Swindon were doing enough to suggest they may be dangerous on the break. Proof of this came on 37 minutes when, after some sustained Fulham pressure, Kevin Amankwaah surged forward down the right and fed Billy Paynter, who took a touch before spinning a volley at goal. Fortunately his effort flew just over, although the Robins fans felt that was only due to a deflection off of Aaron Hughes.
Douglas too threatened moments later as he swayed left and right into the box, avoiding Fulham challenges. But the Whites did enough to block his sight at goal, and eventually Hughes shepherded away the danger.
Riise was one of the biggest thorns in Swindon’s side in the first period, and just before the break, he exchanged well with Johnson who played the ball to the winger and set off into the box.
He carried it forward before attempting to thread a pass to his team-mate who would have gratefully received it had Greer not intercepted with a sliding challenge that nearly poked the ball past his own ‘keeper. Instead a corner was awarded, and from the set-piece Zamora had a gilt-edged chance to double his tally. However, instead, he somehow headed over after leaping highest in the box.
The Whites would have one further sight at goal before the half was out as an enlivened Johnson crafted the time to shoot from the right of the penalty area. However his effort hit the side netting.
No doubt roused by a half-time team talk Swindon emerged for the second-half reinvigorated. Several forays down the left kept Kelly on his toes, and one forced a decent save from Schwarzer.
At the other end, Johnson collected a neat ball over the top, but just let it run away from him when a goal looked a distinct possibility.
The game soon became an intriguing end-to-end battle, as Swindon looked to take the game to their Premier League hosts, and Fulham benefited from big gaps being left on the break. Dempsey was the first to surge forward with acres to run into, but with few initial options, Swindon managed to get enough players back to smother the danger.
Schwarzer then had to be alert to save a well-taken, swerving Sheehan free-kick from the left and deny the visitors one of their best chances of the half. But shortly afterwards Riise broke after another Swindon attack, and with just two defenders back, the winger had huge amounts of space to burst into. However, as he approached the area, he opted to try and play through Greening, but the midfielder didn’t quite have the legs to run onto his through-pass, allowing Lucas to gratefully scoop it up.
Fulham were beginning to smell a goal though and it looked so much like it would materialise just after the hour. This time it was Andy Johnson who took a through-ball into the box after a counter, and having been thwarted by Lucas from a similar position earlier on, he this time tried to round the ‘keeper and pass the ball into the net. However, as he shaped to shoot, he was felled by the stopper’s outstretched hands and a penalty was awarded.
Johnson, a scorer for the Whites in this stage of the competition last year, dusted himself off to take the spot-kick himself, but his effort, low to Lucas’ left, lacked conviction and was saved easily.
For a while one feared the save may prove a turning point, but despite some, at times, scrappy play, Fulham did enough to weather any immediate momentum. Indeed, it was Johnson again, some 17 or so minutes later, that would come close to scoring next - this time from a break and somewhat ambitious strike from the right edge of the box. His drive flashed just over, but certainly had Lucas concerned.
Dempsey would fire another effort over minutes later, from the edge of the area in a central position.
An increasingly desperate Swindon had their fair share of the ball as the game reached its final stages, but rarely looked like stretching or truly causing Fulham any problems. Former Whites Academy star Michael Timlin was introduced, but to little impact, whilst Hodgson brought on Zoltan Gera.
The latter was involved in what was the last real action of the game too, as he collected the ball after a Swindon corner and set Fulham on another counter-attack. However, as the Whites attacked goal in numbers, Dempsey lost his footing and the ball, ending the attack, and the last of any activity of note.
Although not producing their most memorable performance of the season, Roy’s boys had done enough to see off their opponents, avoid a potential Cup upset, and make it into the hat for the Fourth Round draw.
Read more: http://web.archive.org/web/20100205062612/http://www.fulhamfc.com/MatchAndTeam/MatchCentre/Matches/0910/FACup/SwindonHome.aspx#ixzz2Xu3iQmPa