It took a late goal from Danny Murphy to earn Fulham a replay against League One strugglers Bristol Rovers as the Whites’ winless run stretched to ten games at Craven Cottage.
Rovers, roared on by 7,000 travelling fans, got the perfect start when they took the lead inside three minutes thanks to a deflected strike from Danny Coles. It was what they deserved for a bright opening period, signalling that Paul Trollope intended to take the game to his former side on his return to the Cottage as a manager.
The Premier League side looked every inch the team struggling to save their top flight status and stuttered as they tried to unlock a resolute Bristol Rovers defence. Clint Dempsey thought he had found an early equaliser but his tenth minute header was chalked off for a foul by Dejan Stefanovic, who had bundled over Steve Elliott as players jockeyed for position.
Dempsey, a makeshift striker in the continuing absence of his compatriot Brian McBride, was Fulham’s clearest threat in a rather dreary first half. He might have done better with his second opportunity, directing a clear header straight at Steve Phullips rather than either side of the goalkeeper, and then saw a deflection take all the sting out of a powerful shot. There was more worrying injury news for Roy Hodgson as Hameur Bouazza lasted only 25 minutes on his return from suspension, going off with an arm injury.
David Healy had been largely quiet until the latter stages of the first half when the little Northern Irish striker sparked into life. He saw a half shout for a penalty waved away by referee Keith Stroud and sent a shot wide before finally finding an equaliser. Aaron Lescott failed to clear his lines allowing Moritz Volz to send in a dangerous cross and Healy, criminally left unattended in the six-yard box, pounced to level matters.
The equaliser seemed raise Fulham from their slumber and they finished the first period in fine fettle. Phillips did well to deny Healy a second in quick succession before flying away to stop a long-range effort from Alexei Smertin. There was much more penetration about Fulham’s football after the break, highlighted by a flowing move that eventually concluded with Dempsey being denied by a terrific save from Phillips. A succession of desperate blocks enabled Rovers to hang on, none more impressive than a perfectly timed sliding challenge on Dempsey by Craig Hinton as the American was preparing to pull the trigger.
It was Hinton who popped up to send the travelling supporters into ecstacy again with 25 minutes left. In their first real break of the half, Rovers worked a decent position for Craig Lines to swing in a cross and Hinton headed home unchallenged from eight yards out, before being mobbed by his delighted teammates.
Only a late substitution saved Fulham’s blushes. Steven Davis made the equaliser with his first touch after coming on for Smertin, floating a ball towards the box. Healy’s deft knock-down was smashed home by Murphy from 20 yards to the relief of the home fans, who were fearing another Cup upset to rank alongside Wycome and Leyton Orient in recent years. Although the Premier League pushed for a winner, none was forthcoming – and the replay is scheduled for January 15 at the Memorial Ground.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Niemi; Volz (Seol 72), Konchesky, Stefanovic, Bocanegra; Smertin (Davis 73), Murphy, Davies, Bouazza (Baird 25); Dempsey, Healy. Subs (not used): Batista, Leijer.
GOALS: Healy (40), Murphy (73).
BRISTOL ROVERS (4-4-2): Phillips; Lescott, Hinton, Elliott, Jacobson; Pipe, Coles, Lines, Igoe (Carruthers 76); Williams (Rigg 76), Lambert (Walker 90). Subs (not used): M. Green, Reece.
BOOKED: Phillips, Jacobson.
GOALS: Coles (3), Hinton (65).
REFEREE: Keith Stroud (Hampshire).