Sunday Papers

Sunday 17 February 2002

From the Telegraph

NO MORE giant-killing for Walsall on Saturday, but plenty of echoes of the massive Amsterdam Arena at their modest Bescot Stadium. They came in the form of a duel between Fulham's Holland goalkeeper, Edwin van der Sar, and Walsall's substitute striker, Darren Byfield, best friend of Darius Vassell, who scored a spectacular goal for England against the same man a few days earlier.

Byfield, having equalised scrappily for the First Division side, looked to have matched the quality of his former Aston Villa colleague's strike with a powerful header near the end. But Van der Sar threw his 6ft 7in frame into an athletic leap to claw the ball away and finally snuff out Walsall's chances of forcing a replay against opponents whose superior class always gave them the edge in this unremarkable fifth-round tie.

"I thought it was in," Byfield said afterwards. "I think Van der Sar got to it with his fingertips only because he's so tall, but he is a world-class goalkeeper, after all. My header wasn't quite as spectacular as Darius's volley, but at least I can say I scored against Van der Sar faster than he did. If the header had gone in, I think we could have gone on and won it."

That would have been less than Fulham deserved. Playing the controlled possession football that has marked their exceptional progress under French manager Jean Tigana, they squeezed a lot of the passion out of the tie, hard as Walsall tried to sustain it. Having taken the lead shortly before half-time through an own goal by Walsall captain Tom Bennett, they rode the shock of Byfield's equaliser before winning the game with a fine goal by Barry Hayles.

"The FA Cup is a difficult competition to win because there's always so much passion around the games," said Tigana after watching his Premiership side claim a place in the sixth round for the first time since they finished runners-up to West Ham in 1975. "My priority is to stay at the top level: the fans want to see Manchester United, Chelsea, etc, next season. But the FA Cup is not a distraction. That's why I put my first team out today."

While Tigana dreams of getting into Europe by winning the FA Cup or finishing high enough in the Premiership, Walsall manager Colin Lee is left with a fight against relegation and a medical problem to sort out. Lee was furious that it took so long to put a few stitches in the ankle of Darren Wrack - the right-back was still off the pitch when Fulham scored their winner.

"It was really disappointing," he said. "Darren was off the field for 10 minutes 25 seconds, and they scored 25 seconds before he came back onto the pitch. I didn't want to take him off because he was playing so well, and for that to happen in a game like this is hard to swallow. To take so long to put a few stitches in an ankle is obviously something I have to look into."

Both sides had chances to take the lead before Fulham eventually did so. Only the excellent anticipation of Walsall goalkeeper James Walker stopped Sylvain Legwinski putting away Steve Marlet's subtle through-pass after 11 minutes; but the home side might have scored twice themselves before the interval, Brazilian striker Herivelto slicing Van der Sar's poor clearance wide and his Portuguese partner, Jorge Leitao, heading an inviting centre from Byfield, who had come on for Herivelto, into the goalkeeper's hands.

Fulham got their first goal from a free-kick on the right awarded for a foul on Hayles by Matt Carbon. Steed Malbranque, Fulham's outstanding player yet again, took the kick and whipped a dipping shot wickedly into a crowded goalmouth and Bennett seemed to get the last touch.

Walsall's equaliser, four minutes into the second half, was just as messy. This time it was an inswinging corner, taken on the right by Dean Keates, that caused the problems. With players backing into him, even someone as tall as Van der Sar could not deal with the danger. Trying to punch the ball clear, the goalkeeper succeeded only in punching it against Byfield, then watched helplessly as the rebound bounced back into the net.

At the other end, Malbranque twice threatened to score as Fulham changed into a higher gear. The French midfielder shot over the crossbar from Hayles' clever flicked pass then nearly surprised Walker with a free-kick aimed at a spot just under the bar. There was a lovely, flowing quality, too, about Hayles' decisive goal after 61 minutes. An intelligent run by right-back Steve Finnan enabled him to send over a cross that Hayles volleyed sweetly past Taylor on the turn.

But Walsall would have matched Fulham in more ways than one had Van der Sar not made his crucial save four minutes from the end. The danger came from the left, Pedro Matias, one of two Spaniards in this multi-national West Midlands team, picking out Byfield with a perfectly flighted centre. The striker met it perfectly with his head, but Van der Sar was just too big a giant to be felled on this occasion.

The Guardian

It may take only a second to score a goal, but when it takes 10 minutes and 25 seconds to weave four stitches into a defender's wound, leaving a depleted team to try to keep Premiership opponents at bay for a dangerously lengthy spell, it is little wonder that Walsall are cursing the nature of Fulham's winning goal.

To make matters worse, having withstood the pressure while Darren Wrack's ankle was being repaired, Barry Hayles pounced 25 seconds before one of Walsall's most diligent performers returned to the field.

Walsall manager Colin Lee was left cursing and promised to launch an inquiry into the medic's unhurried needle. 'I didn't want to take Darren off because he was playing so well. I felt we held them long enough, but to take that long to stitch up his ankle is something I need to look in to.'

In truth, Fulham's more refined qualities always looked likely to see Jean Tigana's side through to the FA Cup quarter-finals. They had to survive a late scare, when Darren Byfield powered a header goalwards, only for Edwin van der Sar - who had looked twitchy all game - to choose the perfect moment to make a top-class save. Panic over. Fulham march on.

Although Tigana stressed that a comfortable Premiership finish is his priority, the fact that he picked a first-choice XI indicated that this is not a competition that he intends to take lightly. 'Of course we can go all the way,' Tigana said, 'but the FA Cup is very difficult to win because there is always so much passion around the game.'

That ardour was in evidence as Walsall set their stall out to remind their illustrious visitors that they would be no pushovers. Having eliminated Charlton Athletic at the Valley in the previous round, the First Division strugglers hoped to profit again by bumping a few Premiership reputations.

Wrack made the point with a crunching tackle on Steed Malbranque. The French technician flashed back a withering look. Then Walsall captain Tom Bennett offered Steve Marlet an equally hearty welcome. The tone was set: Walsall would ensure that space would be minimised for Fulham to weave their passing game.

Although the home team lacked the pace or panache to ask too many questions of a visiting defence that saw the Moroccan Abdeslam Ouaddou make a rare and reasonably assured appearance, they created enough chances to win a cup tie. They should have taken the lead when Van der Sar treated a clearance casually The ball rebounded off Moreira Herivelto and, with the goalmouth gaping, the Brazilian missed. A glorious opportunity turned to dust.

Punishment was added to Herivelto's embarrassment when Lee hauled him off before half-time and his replacement, Byfield, made an immediate impression. A moment of trickery and a tantalising cross found Jorge Leitao, who met the ball powerfully with his head, but it fell straight at Van der Sar.

How costly it was. Fulham broke to earn a free-kick clumsily conceded by Matt Carbon. Malbranque's delivery was heading towards Hayles at the far post, but in their eagerness to avert the danger Carbon and Bennett collided and the ball was diverted past their own goalkeeper.

The second scruffy goal of the day arrived early in the second half, but this time all Walsall's frustrations turned to elation. Van der Sar flapped at Darren Keates's corner and could only knock the ball at Byfield and it rebounded in. The lithe young striker, once of Aston Villa and a friend of the Dutch goalkeeper's international tormentor Darius Vassell, was thrilled to claim the goal, however scrappy.

Within a minute, though, Wrack, the victim of a thudding Hayles challenge, was forced into his long lay-off. As the minutes ticked by and Walsall's 10 men began to look at each other wondering what on earth was keeping their team-mate, Malbranque seized control of the game.

Fulham unlaced Walsall to crucial effect on the hour. Steve Finnan surged down the right and whipped the ball across to Hayles, whose spectacular, swivelling volley flew past Walker in a blur. Skill to savour after two scratchy efforts. Tigana was particularly pleased for the burly scorer and the only thing that would increase his satisfaction is a home draw for the next round, something that Fulham have not been blessed with thus far. Oh, and a Premiership victory against Middlesbrough in midweek.

Sunday Times

THEY had a Bryan Adams tribute act at Walsall's Saddlers Club last night, and the FA Cup tie next door wasn't quite the real thing, either. Premiership team beat First Division strugglers: hardly the stuff of which legend is made.

Walsall have never been beyond the fifth round, Fulham have never won club football's most celebrated knockout competition. You wouldn't bet on either record improving in the foreseeable future on yesterday's evidence.

The tie was competitive throughout, but it developed into a routine win for Goliath, which was not what the majority had come to see. That said, for 10 minutes or so, it seemed that the packed crowd in their compact stadium might have the classic cup tale to revel in, courtesy of Darren Byfield, who scored a goal with real romantic potential. Byfield, 21, was Aston Villa's most promising young striker until Darius Vassell came along, and the two are still friends. So much so that when Vassell scored on his England debut last Wednesday, his erstwhile colleague from their days in Villa's youth team, who was watching the match on television, jumped so far out of his chair he aggravated an ankle injury, which kept him out of the starting line-up yesterday.

Undeterred, he quickly made up for lost time when he was introduced from the bench, emulating Vassell's midweek success by putting the ball past Fulham's Dutch international goalkeeper, Edwin van der Sar.

Byfield's big moment, four minutes into the second half, equalised the 43rd-minute own goal which had given Fulham the lead and, had the young man scored again late on, when it took a top-notch save from van der Sar to deny him, Walsall would have lived to fight another day. Instead, an instinctive volley from Barry Hayles was decisive, taking the Premiership side through to tonight's quarter-final draw.

The team from the Nationwide League still face a fight for survival in the First Division, where they are at home to Manchester City on Saturday, then away to Wolves, and although their fans are unlikely to agree, it is perhaps as well that they can now devote their undivided attention to that task. They had their moment of glory in the fourth round, winning at Charlton, but they were never going to get much further and need to focus on securing what their new manager, Colin Lee, calls the "bread and butter". Walsall's goalscoring hero at the Valley, Jorge Leitao, was subdued to the point of near- invisibility here, getting no encouragement from the attentions of Abdeslam Ouaddou, a leggy defender who can be Rio Ferdinand one moment, Carlton Palmer the next.

A Moroccan marking a Portuguese; it was that sort of occasion. Gone are the days when the Walsall team sounded like an audition for Crossroads; the Bescot now echoes to the cosmopolitan tones of two Spaniards, a Brazilian and a Frenchman, as well as Leitao, who arrived in the West Midlands via Oporto and Farense.

If Fulham and their manager, Jean Tigana, did not enjoy a monopoly when it came to exotica, nor did they fashion all the goalscoring chances. Sylvain Legwinski and Steed Malbranque had early oppportunities, but Leitao spurned one that was much more clear-cut when Byfield picked him out with an inviting cross from the left. The accuracy of the delivery warranted a much better fate than a free header straight at the goalkeeper from seven yards.

The first goal, tantalisingly close to half-time, was a calamitous one for Tom Bennett, the Walsall captain, who was booked, then collided with Matt Carbon to divert Malbranque's subsequent free kick past his startled keeper.

The equaliser was no better from the defensive viewpoint, van der Sar flapping ineffectively at a corner swung in by Dean Keates, and all but throwing the ball against Byfield, who admitted his good fortune afterwards.

"It was a bit of a gift", he said, "but at least I can now tell Darius that I put one past van der Sar, too."

Byfield had telephoned Vassell straight after the England game, and will be doing so again today.

"We talk all the time", he said, "we're good mates. At Villa, I set the scoring record for the youth team one season, and he broke it the next. People ask why I left. When they look at Darius now, they can probably see why."

Fulham responded well to the concession of what was a soft goal that left Tigana "a little worried". Malbranque might have restored the advantage twice before Hayles did so, after 61 minutes, thumping home Steve Finnan's right-wing centre at the far post.

Walsall were down to 10 men at the time, Darren Wrack having withdrawn to have running repairs on a gashed ankle. It took more than 10 minutes for the wound to be stitched, which Lee seemed to suggest was too long.

"He was off the field for 10 minutes, 25 seconds, which is a long time," the manager said. "That was a bit of a sickener, especially as they scored in the 25 seconds before he came back. Sometimes I suppose those type of things happen.

"I didn't want to take Darren off because he was playing so well. We never really had a natural right-back on the bench anyway.

"I felt we held them long enough, but to take that long to put a few stitches in his ankle is something I need to look into." Because of Wrack, Walsall found themselves on the rack, but they would still have had the replay Lee felt they deserved but for the save with which van der Sar thwarted Byfield in the closing minutes.

It was left to the Bryan Adams wannabe to come up with an appropriate line: "Baby, When You're Gone."

News of the World

BARRY HAYLES got his keeper out of jail as he volleyed Fulham into the FA Cup quarter-finals.

Hayles met Steve Finnan's cross on the hour with an acrobatic effort which gave Walsall keeper James Walker no chance.

And it gave Fulham victory after his own keeper Edwin van der Sar blundered had given the First Division strugglers a lifeline.

The Dutch international flapped at a Dean Keates corner on 48 minutes, lost his bearings and the ball hit substitute Darren Byfield on the back of the head and bounced over the line.

It was little more than the Saddlers deserved after they had matched Fulham for the first 43 minutes before the game turned in the space of 60 seconds.

First Byfield found Jorge Leitao unmarked in the box with a pinpoint cross. The Portuguese star only had to divert the ball into either corner but he headed straight into van der Sar's arms.

Within a minute the Cottagers had gone down the other end and taken the lead with a freak goal in a nightmare moment for Matt Carbon. The classy Carbon was given a hospital pass by full-back Frederick Biancalani and was booked for a mis-timed tackle as he tried to win the ball back.

Steed Malbranque then swung in a teasing free-kick from the right and Carbon and defensive partner Tom Bennett bumped into each other and bundled the ball into their own net.

To make it worse, Carbon was hurt in the collision and was taken off at half-time.

But it was the loss of another defender which proved the turning point in the game.

Midway through the second half Darren Wrack was off for a full 11 minutes while the Walsall physio inserted stitches into his gashed shin.

Walsall boss Colin Lee gambled and let his side play on with 10 men and during that time Hayles bagged the winner.

Lee was not happy about how long Wrack was off the field.

He said: "Darren was off for 10 minutes and 25 seconds. For that to happen in a game like this is hard to swallow.

"They scored 25 seconds before he came back on the pitch. Sometimes I suppose those type of things happen.

"I didn't want to take Darren off because he was playing so well. We never really had a natural right back on the bench anyway.

"I felt we held them long enough but to take that long to stitch up a few stitches in his ankle is something I need to look into."

Even after falling behind a second time the underdogs refused to give in and they might even have snatched a replay. Byfield thumped a header goalwards after some brilliant appraoch work on the left.

But van der Sar made up for his earlier blunder as he threw his 6ft 5ins frame to his right and tipped the ball away at full stretch.

Fulham manager Jean Tigana was a relieved man to make it throught to the last eight.

He said: "When they came back to equalise I was a little bit worried. The FA Cup is always a difficult competition to win as there is so much passion in the games.

"My priority is to stay in top level and play teams like Manchester United and Chelsea. But if we can go all the way in the competition, why not."