Fulham’s FA Cup dream ended at the first hurdle on a truly bitter night at Fratton Park. The only goal of the game came in the opening ten minutes and from that point on, despite there efforts and three clear chances on goal, Fulham couldn’t find the equalising goal.
It was a very nervy start from the Whites, a tentative opening with a few misplaced passes. The opposition sensed this and from the outset looked to work the Fulham defence, especially down the flanks as they utilised the trickery and pace of their wide men. A scrambled clearance by Joe Anderson gave the Whites an early warning; however this warning was not to be enough five minutes later.
Portsmouth’s spell of concerted pressure paid dividends after just eight minutes when a clearance by Ashley Thompson deflected back over his head and fell kindly for Tom Kilby who placed his shot past Wesley Foderingham and off the post into the back of the net.
It was a terrible start for Fulham but soon after the defence settled down and were almost immediately linking more successfully with the midfielders in front of them. The early goal had hardly given Fulham’s strikers a chance to get into the match but Lewis Smith and Michael Uwezu soon started to show their presence up front. The latter took a ball down on his thigh before spinning his marker and leaving him through on goal. With the ball at an awkward height, Uwezu tried to prod it over the keeper but Pompey’s number one, Tommy Smith, made himself big and deflected the ball behind.
The Whites continued to persevere as they desperately looked to find an opening to get their attackers in space behind the Portsmouth defence. A high ball to the edge of the box was contested by Smith and his marker, but unfairly according to the referee as Smith was bundled to the floor. From the resulting free kick, initially an intricate set play was charged down by the wall but too soon in the referee’s opinion, and Andrea Mutombo was booked for his efforts. The second set piece was more direct as Matt Saunders curled the ball over the wall but just over the bar as well.
Undoubtedly Fulham’s best chance came towards the end of the first half; Ashley Thompson still up from an earlier set play picked up the ball 25 yards out, he passed right to Saunders who drilled in a low shot. The keeper only managed to parry the ball to his right and into the path of Smith but the striker, at an awkward angle already, got the ball stuck under his feet and further tightened the angle, eventually the defender managed to bundle the ball behind. Portsmouth had had a few scares in the first half but held until the break.
The second half saw the introduction of Wayne Jackson for Tyrone Cameron. Once again Pompey started the better of the two sides, constantly looking dangerous on the counter as Fulham looked to push more men forward. During one such break, a low drive from Matthew Ritchie had Wes Foderingham scampering across his goal, but the ball went wide.
An increase in possession for Fulham in the middle of the pitch also saw some more promising positions taken up by the wide men. Two corners in quick succession had Portsmouth on the back foot however moments later a back pass to Foderingham was taken by the keeper and his attempted clearance was charged down but went out for a throw-in however, it was a reminder to Fulham that Portsmouth were still very much a live threat.
Max Noble was popping up all across the midfield in the second half and Pompey were struggling to ascertain who should pick him up. One jinking run took the skilful winger into the box. Under a challenge from the defender he went down inside the area but the referee, positioned perfectly, waved the young Welsh international’s pleas away. Soon after, a stinging strike from Noble was grasped expertly by Smith, with the slippery conditions he did well to take it at the first time of asking.
The final 10 minutes saw an end-to-end affair with Fulham making all three of their allotted substitutions in an attempt to find the equaliser. A fantastic defensive block in the area by a Portsmouth defender denied a crisp volley from Thompson that was on target and would have taken some stopping.
From the resulting clearance, following Thompson’s effort, Portsmouth broke to the other end and Ritchie with men to his left and right decided instead to shoot, his low shot was touched on to the post by Foderingham to keep the Whites in it. The last real chance of the game fell to Uwezu who met a Laribi cross and headed down towards goal, however, his connection failed to generate any real pace and the keeper gathered comfortably.
With both sides looking decidedly drained the referee, with whistle between lips, cruelly ended Fulham’s night and ensured a Fourth Round tie for Portsmouth at Fratton Park again against fellow south coast side, Plymouth Argyle.
Fulham: Foderingham; Cumber (Laribi 70), Thompson, Briggs, Anderson; Cameron (Jackson 45), Hall (Brown 80), Saunders, Noble; Smith, Uwezu