Hayles chips in

Saturday 13 April 2002

From Fulham Today's Ian McCulloch

Fulham's Semi-Final record doesn't make for great reading. The Whites first appearance, in 1908, is definitely one to be forgotten, as their 6-0 defeat against Newcastle at Anfield is still the biggest winning margin for a Cup Semi-Final.

Their next attempt in 1936 wasn't much better, the 2-1 defeat to Sheffield United at Molineux being particularly disappointing, sandwiched between two League wins against the Blades as it was. Post-war, and the Whites settled themselves into a series of replays. First up was in 1958, when Manchester United, less than two months after the Munich Disaster and swept on by a tidal-wave of emotion, held Fulham to a 2-2 draw at Villa Park and won a thrilling replay 5-3 at Highbury.

Four years later in 1962, at Villa Park again, the referee denied centre forward Maurice Cook a clear-cut penalty that would have given the Whites a 2-1 victory over Burnley, and the Clarets took the replay 2-1 at Filbert Street. Once again a new record was created as no team previously had reached this many Semi-Finals without getting to the Final.

And so to 1975. A replay once again as Birmingham equalised to tie the first game 1-1 at Hillsborough, and then one of the most glorious nights in Fulham's history as John Mitchell's 119th minute chested goal at Maine road took the Whites to their first and, so far, only Cup Final.

The interesting fact that comes out of the above is that Fulham have never won or lost a Semi-Final appearance at Villa Park, a record that will definitely change on Sunday as the game must be decided on the night, with extra-time and penalties being called on if necessary.

So for only the sixth time in their one hundred and twenty three year history, Fulham find themselves in the Semi-Finals of the FA Cup and within striking distance of collecting one of the game's major trophies for the first time.

One person who will not underestimate the importance of the occasion is Barry Hayles. The striker who was working as a Carpenter just a few short years ago, has just had a three match FA ban slapped on him and will miss the Final if the Whites should get there. Sunday will be the biggest game of the former non-league player's career, and one that he will definitely be looking to make his mark on if he gets the chance.

"We don't know who will be in the team yet," he said, talking on Friday, "To be fair the boys played really well on Monday against Newcastle so it will be tough for me to get back into the starting line-up.

"The manager chops and changes the side all the time, so you never know if you're playing or not, but I was a bit surprised to be left out on Monday. Obviously I want to be a part of it and I want to do well."

What a fairy story it would be for the likeable Hayles if he could end his recent barren run with a goal on Sunday. With football being dominated by the billionaire stars, how reassuring it is that players can still come out of nowhere and make it to the very top.

"Five years ago I was working as a carpenter, making things like partitions," said Hayles, "And I was playing amateur football. Before I joined Stevenage Borough I was playing for a team where I used to pay subs, three pounds a game I think it was. So it's been an amazing turnaround for me.

"It's eight games since I scored myself and it's been a case of coming on and trying to make something happen. So it's time I scored again."

Hayles admitted that it will be heart-breaking for him personally if the team do make it through to the Final in Cardiff.

"My hearing took so long to come through," he said, "And we've done so well in the Cup, it will be devastating if we get there and I can't play. But I've just got to get on with it, and hope that the boys can get there and do well. It's five months since the incident happened, so it is hard to take.

"It's in the players' minds that if we do win the Semi-Final then we're in with a good chance of getting into Europe. So this game is important for me, as are the remaining Premiership games to make sure we stay in the League, as it's my opportunity to help the Club achieve something."

Goal scoring has been the real problem for the Whites this season, and despite being top scorer, Hayles feels the frustration and disappointment as much as anyone. Despite a great deal of work, it still hasn't quite worked for the team.

"I think the key to the game is who scores the first goal," he said, "If we get it I think we can go on and win, but it will very tough for us if they get the first goal. We don't know why we haven't really scored the goals this season, we've talked about it, we've tried different things on the training pitch, we've tried all sorts of things, but we just can't put our finger on it.

"Our recent training has been a lot more focussed on our pattern of play, and on set-pieces. We've not scored many goals from set-pieces; it's been one of our failings, and the manager's been working on that.

"Scoring goals requires a bit of luck, and a bit more quality than we've been producing in the final third, but we've been creating the chances and we've just got to be a bit more clinical. There was an element of luck about Louis Saha's goal against Newcastle, and a few weeks ago the ball would probably have hit Louis and come back out again, so hopefully our luck is changing a little bit.

"We've needed a bit of luck in the Cup, we've played away from home in every round and it hasn't been easy. We beat Walsall and West Brom in the midlands and I think we're staying in the same hotel to try and keep that run going."

And what about Chelsea? Is there confidence in the camp?

"It's going to be a really tough game on Sunday," said Hayles, "but we've had two good games against them. We got a point against them at the Cottage, they were the best side in the first half, but in the second we were much better than them, and then at Stamford Bridge, a draw would have been a much fairer result, but they showed their quality by being able to bring on a sub who made a difference for them.

"We've showed that we can compete with them, and if we can get our game together then there's no reason why we can't get a result."

Fulham played a much tighter game up at Newcastle, and with Chelsea managing only a 0-0 in midweek against Blackburn, perhaps a close game is on the cards. So with a nervy extra-time period possibly to come and then the prospect of penalties, Fulham fans have to hope that Jean Tigana has been getting his team to practice their spot-kicks this week.

What drama it could be if that's the way that Fulham get through to Cardiff. Time for the Beta Blockers everybody!