French forward Steve Marlet headed Fulham into the FA Cup semi-finals for the first time in 27 years after Jean Tigana’s side edged out West Bromwich Albion in a gritty battle at the Hawthorns tonight.

The Baggies battled hard but were short of quality in the final third and were ultimately undone by Fulham’s superior quality at both ends of the pitch. Marlet, who had seen a goal disallowed for offside in the first half, pounced two minutes after half time to nod home the only goal of the game from Steed Malbranque’s free-kick.

The home side, roared on by fervent support, did initially prevent Fulham’s passing game from providing early openings for Marlet and Louis Saha but the visitors still carved out the best opportunities. Their first chances came from set-plays, such as when a clever corner routine picked out John Collins 25 yards from goal and the Scottish veteran curled an effort wide of goal. Albion gradually gained a foothold and there was a nervy moment for Fulham when Andy Melvile sliced a clearance from Scott Dobie’s cross over his own bar.

Collins was in the right place at the right time to clear off the line after Danny Dichio had headed Neil Clement’s corner past Edwin van der Sar, but it was the lively movement and set piece delivery of Steed Malbranque that eventually made the difference for Fulham. The French playmaker had a goalbound effort blocked by Larus Sigurdsson and sent a free-kick from 20 yards wide of goal before his free-kick was deflected in Marlet’s path. The former Lyons striker finished emphatically but his celebrations were cut short by the linesman’s flag.

That sparked a period of pressure from the hosts with Dobie contriving to miss the best chance of the match when he rushed his left-footed finish when clean through on goal, allowing van der Sar to make a simple save. Clement dragged a shot wide from 20 yards, before Saha and Marlet linked up well at the other end only for the latter to fire wide. Just before half time, Saha was denied by a bit of improvisation from Baggies’ keeper Russell Hoult, who saved with his feet after fine work from Luis Boa Morte.

Fulham needed just two minutes of the second half to break the deadlock with Marlet punishing some terrible marking to head home his seventh goal of the season from a fine, floated Malbranque free-kick. Saha spooned an effort over from eight yards after excellent interplay between Malbranque and Finnan. With the game threatening to run away from West Brom, Gary Megson sent on experienced striker Bob Taylor, who quickly forced van der Sar into a scrambling save from thirty yards out.

The Baggies pushed for a late leveller, with Dichio driving over the crossbar from an acute angle, but Fulham held firm to reach the last four of the FA Cup for the first time since they went all the way to Wembley as a Second Division side in 1975.

WEST BROMWICH ALBION (4-4-2): Hoult, Sigurdsson, Moore, Gilchrist, Clemnt; A. Chambers (Taylor 54), Balis, McInnes, Johnson; Dobie (Fox 82), Dichio. Subs Not Used: Adamson, Butler, Jordao. Subs (not used): Adamson, Butler, Jordao.

FULHAM (4-4-2): van der Sar; Finnan, Brevett, Melville, Goma; Collins, Legwinski, Malbranque (Hayles 85), Boa Morte (Ouaddou 72); Marlet, Saha (Goldbaek 85). Subs (not used) Taylor, Harley.

GOAL: Marlet (48).

REFEREE: Neale Barry (Scunthorpe).


The Dutch goalkeeper easily fielded Sigurdsson’s free header from a Clement corner before Dichio drove over from an acute angle as the home side piled on the pressure. They couldn’t find a leveller as a composed Fulham side moved into the last four for the first time since they went all the way to Wembley as a Second Division club in 1975.

Referee: Neale Barry (Scunthorpe).