It was a classic FA Cup tie on a misty Saturday afternoon in Accrington as goals from Erik Nevland, Damien Duff and Zoltan Gera secured Fulham’s place in the 5th Round of the FA Cup.
Roy Hodgson fielded a full strength team taking into account Fulham’s current injury situation. With Paul Konchesky, John Pantsil, Clint Dempsey, Bobby Zamora and Andrew Johnson all unavailable for Saturday’s tie, the match presented opportunities for Toni Kallio, Bjorn Helge Riise and Erik Nevland; all of whom were named in Fulham’s starting eleven to face Accrington Stanley.
There was some good news to report ahead of kick-off with Diomansy Kamara and Simon Davies named on the bench after recovering from their respective recent injuries.
The game got underway with testing conditions underfoot in front of 3,312 supporters and during the opening exchanges of the first half Fulham were committed to containing Accrington’s early offensive.
John Miles was Accrington’s main protagonist in the opening minutes of the match. The busy midfielder provided an early warning when he burst through Fulham’s midfield after five minutes of play before jinking his way through a host of players on the edge of Fulham’s area moments later.
After ten minutes of play Accrington almost took the lead twice in as many minutes but were denied by the outstanding Mark Schwarzer.
Michael Symes tested the Aussie keeper first with a low drive from the edge of the area that Schwarzer managed to tip past the post for a corner with a low dive to his left.
From the resulting set piece Ryan blasted a thunderous volley in on goal from the right hand side of the area. Once again, fine positioning allowed Schwarzer to produce a second sensational reflex save in as many minutes.
Referee Stuart Attwell was less than impressed when Accrington captain Procter followed through on Schwarzer after the keeper cleared from a back pass after 19 minutes of play. It was certainly a busy opening period for Fulham’s No. 1.
Erik Nevland, returning to the starting eleven with Johnson and Zamora absent through injury, fired in Fulham’s first shot of the game after 19 minutes of play.
Nevland’s strike from distance went high over the bar but the Norwegian striker made no mistake barely a minute later, his predatory instincts earning Fulham the lead after 20 minutes.
Nevland’s strike from close range came courtesy of Gera’s header across goal from a Duff corner. The ball fell at Nevland’s feet six yards from goal in a congested area and the ball was in the back of the net in an instant.
However, Fulham’s lead did not last long when Symes smashed the ball home from close range to pull Accrington level after 24 minutes.
The home side’s equaliser arose after Schwarzer parried a long range shot to the right hand side of the area. McConville then crossed the ball back into the box; handing Symes had the easiest of tasks six yards out to level the game.
Accrington’s equaliser certainly produced a feverous FA Cup atmosphere during the first half and the home side’s wholehearted approach was certainly earning Fulham their fair share of free kicks; although the Whites were certainly committed in the challenge, with Gera and Baird booked during the first-half.
After 35 minutes Schwarzer produced another superb save to deny Grant. Breaking free down Fulham’s left flank Grant unleashed a fierce drive from 20 yards. Schwarzer leapt to his left to parry the ball away to safety.
The game ebbed and flowed towards the break as neither side managed to produce any further noteworthy opportunities before half-time. Although Accrington were dealt a major blow with the sending-off of Darran Kempston on 41 minutes. The game was certainly set up for a fascinating second period.
Fulham looked to settle the play at the start of the second-half, dominating possession with their natural passing play. It certainly tempered home side’s threat as Fulham began to control proceedings on the pitch.
Duff and Riise switched flanks for the second period with both players looking to cut inside their markers from wide positions.
To their credit Accrington responded with their own blend of passing football and the home side produced a superb move after 55 minutes, resulting in Grant volleying across Schwarzer’s goal from the left hand side of the area. It was a stunning effort which flew just wide of goal.
Roy Hodgson made the first substitution of the game after 55 minutes, replacing Toni Kallio with David Elm. Fulham’s reshuffled pack saw Kelly move to left back with Baird slotting in at right back. Elm partnered Nevland up front with Gera moving to the left midfield.
Fulham regained the lead after 58 minutes when Duff fired home from 16 yards. Murphy got the ball rolling from a free kick, which Nevland presented to Duff whose low shot across goal flew into the corner of the net past the despairing Bouzanis.
Duff’s strike took some of the heat out of the tie but Accrington were certainly making every effort to recover the deficit. John Coleman bolstered his attack with the introduction of Kee for McConville after 64 minutes.
However it was Fulham’s attacking impetus that was becoming ever stronger as the minutes passed. Nevland almost extended Fulham’s lead with a thunderous right-footed shot from the edge of the area after 65 minutes. Credit to Accrington’s keeper Bouzanis, who denied Nevland his brace with a fine fingertip save.
Roy Hodgson made his second substitution of the game after 66 minutes, introducing South African international Kagisho Dikgacoi for goalscorer Duff.
Nevland remained Fulham’s most potent threat in front of goal, forcing Bouzanis to produce another fingertip save from a long-range drive after 75 minutes.
Gera put the game beyond doubt for Fulham ten minutes from time when he fired a right footed volley past Bouzanis from eight yards out. Riise set the Hungarian up, sprinting down the right flank and delivering a pinpoint cross to Gera, who booked Fulham’s place in 5th Round of the FA Cup with a clinical finish.
During the final minutes of play Simon Davies made a welcome return to action as Roy Hodgson introduced the Welshman for Gera.
After Saturday’s successful trip to Accrington, Fulham are back on the road on Tuesday night when they travel to North London rivals Tottenham for a Barclays Premier League clash at White Hart Lane.
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