Barry Hayles has made a career out of proving his doubters wrong. The former Bristol Rovers forward has endured some sharp criticism since making a £2m move to Craven Cottage last year but he was the toast of SW6 as Second Division Fulham booked a date with Premier League leaders Aston Villa after seeing off Southampton for the second time this season.

On a night when Kevin Keegan called on the Fulham faithful to pack out their famous old ground against his old club, Hayles provided the winner just as a tight tussle appeared destined for extra time. He followed up emphatically to fire past Paul Jones after Matt Brazier’s strike had been blocked. Keegan celebrated wildly on the Craven Cottage touchline – and the Division Two leaders completely deserved their second giantkilling of the campaign.

The boos that greeted Hayles’ name on the Fulham team-sheet seemed an awful long way away once Hayles, a former Stevenage striker, had struck to sink the struggling Saints. The likeable forward admitted afterwards:

“In a way I was worried that FA Cup glory might have passed me by. Until now, my best moment in the competition had been with Stevenage when we won at Leyton Orient a couple of years ago and Peter Shilton was in goal. It looked for all the world as if we were going to extra time and we were all very tired. But I hope that goal has silenced a few people and now we can enjoy a day out at Aston Villa in the next round. They will have to do all the worrying because we have nothing to lose up there.”

The visitors appeared happy to try and extend the stalemate into extra time but Fulham appeared sharper in both fitness and their incisive approach play the longer the contest went on. The hosts created plenty of openings in a fluid 3-4-3 formation, with Hayles joined up front by Paul Peschisoldio and Geoff Horsfield. Substitute Dirk Lehmann headed just wide with ten minutes to play, but Hayles pounced to put the seal on a special evening by the banks of the Thame

More than 17,000 fans crammed into the Cottage for one of Fulham’s biggest nights of the last 25 years. Southampton were desperate to give beleaguered boss Dave Jones a boost, especially after being decidedly second best in the original tie – when they were rescued by a late equaliser from Egil Ostenstadt. Former Saints keeper Maik Taylor denied Hassan Kachloul after sixty seconds when the Moroccan midfielder had streaked infield from the left, but the Northern Ireland international made a superb save with his legs.

Fulham were far from intimidated by their illustrious opponents, who they dumped out of the League Cup back in September, and Steve Hayward, the only survivor from Micky Adams’ side that Keegan inherited when he was installed as chief operating offer fifteen months ago, became influential again after opening the scorer at the Dell eleven days ago. The former Carlisle midfielder saw a free-kick tipped round the post by Jones and then grazed the woodwork with a rising drive.

The home side flourished in a fluid 3-4-3 formation, continually creating chances against their Premiership opponents, who seemed content to try and extend the stalemate into extra time. Hayles had a couple of opportunities to put Fulham in front before substitute Dirk Lehmann headed wide and Southampton were only enlivened once Matt Le Tissier, short of match fitness after a calf complaint, was introduced from the bench in the final half an hour.

Fulham only got stronger in the closing stages and it was fitting that Hayles, who had given the Saints defence a torrid time all evening, was rewarded for both his application and endeavour by sniffing out the winner with five minutes to play. His name will now always be synonymous with this special night – and what felt like a big statement after all of Mohamed Al Fayed’s investment – by the banks of the River Thames.

FULHAM (3-4-3): Taylor; Symons, Coleman, Neilson; Bracewell (Uhlenbeek 74), Hayward, Finnan, Brazier; Peschisolido (Smith 45), Horsfield (Lehman 45), Hayles. Subs (not used): Arendse, Salako.

BOOKED: Coleman, Symons.

GOAL: Hayles (85).

SOUTHAMPTON (4-4-2): Jones; Dodd, Colleter, Monkou, Lundekvam; Oakley (Le Tissier 62), Howells (Ripley 83), Ostendstadt, Kachloul; Hughes, Beattie. Subs (not used): Stensgaard, Hiley, Bridge.

REFEREE: Dermot Gallagher (Oxfordshire).