From Ian McCulloch at Fulham Today...
It's surely a sign of the times when Fulham fans can leave the Stadium of Light bitterly disappointed at coming away with only a point. But with a team shorn of Davis and Saha the overwhelming feeling was that this was two more points lost in the White's quest for a European place.
Fulham dominated the first half, and should have gone in at the break more than just their one goal ahead. Their midfield, with John Collins and particularly Steed Malbranque in outstanding form, ran the game, and there were several good chances to wrap up the victory including a header against the bar from Zat Knight.
By the end, Fulham were hanging on somewhat, though it took a suspiciously offside looking, but well taken, goal from Kevin Phillips to earn the Black Cats their point.
Malbranque's goal, his first in fourteen games, was glorious; a powerful surge past two defenders and a shot on the turn from the edge of the box flying into the top corner of the net. He was involved in everything going forward.
It's difficult at times to remember that Malbranque is just twenty-two and playing in only his first season in English football. He might be still trying to come to terms with the complexities of the language but he has made an immediate impact on the Premiership. And according to manager Jean Tigana there is a lot more to come from the summer signing from Lyon. Whilst being delighted with what he has done so far, he admitted that the young Frenchman is still getting to grips with the physical nature of the game over here.
"Steed is progressing," he said, "But sometimes he has to learn to take a kick. But he's a good player.
"He's still young and last year he only played a few games, but he's progressing step by step."
Fulham's forward crisis worsened when substitute Luis Boa Morte was stretchered off towards the end of the game. He joins Louise Saha, now rumoured to be nicknamed "three nostrils" by his colleagues, on the injured list, and with Barry Hayles suspended, the Whites really are down to the bare bones up front.
Fortunately, striker Steve Marlet has demonstrated that he has the determination and assurance to lead the line in his colleague's absence, this despite only just returning from a two month lay-off with a compressed knee fracture. Speaking after the Wycombe game, the French international spoke of his willingness to work hard for the team.
"It's very unlucky for us," he said, "Because Louis was coming back very well. I hope he won't be out for too long. I was injured for two months, so I know it is very frustrating for him.
"I was on the bench in the replay against Wycombe, but when Louis got his injury after 19 minutes, I had to play.
"I was a little bit tired as it was my fifth game in two weeks, after I hadn't played for two months. It was difficult for me physically. Now, if Louis is out for one or two weeks, I will work hard and try to play."
There's the opportunity for more Cup glory on Saturday for the man who breathtakingly kept Fulham in the competition against Wycombe. Let's hope that Steve can show us all that his shoulders are broad enough to take the strain.