Fulham’s frustrating season went from bad to worse in the pouring rain at the Memorial Ground. Having somewhere scraped a replay from the original tie at Craven Cottage, Roy Hodgson’s strugglers were knocked out of the FA Cup on penalties by a Bristol Rovers side some 41 places below them in the league pyramid. Rovers, managed by former Fulham midfielder Paul Trollope, progress to a fourth round tie against Swindon.
This dire shoot-out defeat took Fulham’s miserable run to thirteen games without a win and will have done nothing for morale at the London club. No amount of tinkering with the team could inject some much-needed creativity, even though Hodgson gave Jimmy Bullard his first start in sixteen months alongside Wayne Brown, who made his first-team debut in central midfield.
Fulham struggled to adapt to the difficult conditions, frequently surrendering possession to the home side on a poor surface, and were indebted to Tony Warner for keeping them in the tie. Poor defending meant Fulham’s reserve goalkeeper was called into action on several ocassions like when he made a terrific reaction save from David Pipe. Pipe will think he should have done better from just six yards out but Warner flung himself across goal to save after Chris Lines had burst clear down the left flank.
Andrew Williams was next to go close, reacting quickest to a clever flick from the dangerous Richard Lambert, but having escaped the attentions of his marker, Williams’ shot was rather tame and Warner gratefully gathered ball without too much trouble. It would have alarmed the perfectionist Hodgson that his defence were allowing Rovers so much possession, especially as the midfield looked rather powder-puff.
Bullard’s speculative effort from 25 yards was really all the Premier League side could muster by way of a chance and their goal was continuing to lead something of a charmed life. Chris Baird was in the right place at the right time to clear off the line from Lines, whilst David Healy’s smart turn and shot provided a rare chance for Fulham at the other end.
With the stalemate still not broken as we passed ninety minutes, extra-time briefly enlivened proceedings. Lambert found himself free enough to fire goalwards but found the side netting with a fierce drive and Fulham’s most fluent move of the match fashioned a chance for Clint Dempsey. Seol Ki-Hyeon played the ball into his path and the American’s well-struck shot was magnificently palmed away by the diving Steve Phillips. That the home goalkeeper’s first real save came deep in extra-time told you all needed to know about the dynamic of the contest.
Fulham were reduced to ten men in the final seconds of extra time as Stefanovic correctly saw red after hauling down Lines to earn a second yellow card. Worse was to come. Bullard’s poor penalty was simply saved by Phillips and Craig Disley strode forward to stroke home the winning spot-kick. Joy unconfined at the Memorial Ground.
BRISTOL ROVERS (4-4-2): Phillips; Lescott, Jacobson, Hinton, Elliott (Disley 21); Campbell, Coles, Pipe, Lines; Williams (Rigg 97), Lambert. Subs (not used): Igoe, Walker, Carruthers.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Warner; Baird, Bocanegra, Hughes, Stefanovic; Brown (Seol 90), Bullard, Volz, Konchesky; Dempsey, Healy. Subs (not used): Batista, Leijer, Davis, Milsom.
SENT OFF: Stefanovic (119).
REFEREE: Martin Atkinson (West Yorkshire).