Collins Cup of cheer

Sunday 27 January 2002

From Fulham Today's Ian McCulloch

So the quest for Cup glory continues. In a game that had all the makings of the upset of the day, Fulham showed their mettle by overcoming a spirited York City side to run out eventual two-nil winners and progress through to the Fifth Round.

The Whites had to show that they had battling qualities in equal measure to their flowing football, and at times York had them on the back foot. A twenty-minute spell of concerted City pressure in the second half saw Fulham defending desperately and fortunate to keep their goal intact.

Midfielder John Collins speaking after the game said that it had not been an easy victory.

"I thought we played quite well. The pitch was terrible, a real leveller. But we got an early goal in the first half and that settled us down and took the sting out of them. We should have got a second goal in the first half but we didn't. They came at us in the second half, they had the wind at their backs, they kept pumping the ball forward, and to be honest they were unlucky not to get an equaliser.

"They showed terrific spirit, they were well organised, they kept trying to go forward and score goals. I thought they were a bit unfortunate; good luck to them for the rest of the season."

It was a game that was as much about application and effort as skill, qualities that York manager Terry Dolan acknowledged Fulham had in abundance. Collins made the point that the conditions made it hard for the Whites to play their normal passing game, and that made it difficult for them to really show off their superior qualities.

"We dug in," he said, "We know that when you came to places like this you've got to win the tackles and win the battles. But I thought our attitude was terrific today and in between we played some good football, especially in the first half.

"When you play lower league teams you know that they're going to press you and get in amongst you and upset you, and in all fairness they did that. But we coped. We dug in well and we showed a lot of character. We played some good football and put together some good moves as well even though the pitch was terrible."

After tacking some criticism for fielding an apparently weakened team in the Worthington Cup, manager Jean Tigana made his intentions in the FA Cup perfectly clear by putting out his strongest possible team against a side second from bottom of the Third Division. Collins confirmed that the Club's sights are firmly focussed on the competition.

"There's a belief here that we can go all the way in this. It would be an excellent thing for the Club. There's a few big scalps gone now and there'll be one more gone after the Arsenal-Liverpool game, so we're looking forward to the draw. Hopefully we can get a home tie, we've had two tricky away draws, but a home draw would be good and we can kick on from there.

"It's the Cup and you've got to show a lot of enthusiasm. Of course when you see the pitch, everybody would like to play on the bowling greens of the Premier League surfaces, but when you're on the park you want to win the game, you've got to be professional, and that's what we did today and that's why we got the result. If you come here and worry about the pitch or worry about the crowd being close to you, the little team's beaten you then, you've no chance.

"Everybody wants to get to the Final and win the Cup, and it would be nice if we could finish the season off with a trip to Cardiff."

Striker Steve Marlet wrapped up the game with a fine individual goal, his fourth since returning from his unfortunate leg fracture. Collins was full of praise for the French front man.

"He was unfortunate when he arrived," he said, "He took a nasty injury, a bad tackle against Southampton put him out for a couple of months, so that set him back. But now he's banging in the goals, that's four now in the last six or seven games, so long may that continue. He's a good player and he will score goals for us."

With the prize of a European place now coming up on two fronts, the next two games are crucial in Fulham's attempts to push on to the upper reaches of the Premiership.

"We've got two important games this week," said Collins "And if we can take six points out of them then we're right up amongst them and pushing for a European place which has got to be our target, and I think we're more than capable of winning those two games."

It would be easy to diminish how good a performance this was against York - plenty of "big" teams would not have fancied it on the day, but Fulham showed that they have the professionalism and the heart necessary to go all the way. With a decent draw at Walsall in round five who knows...