Skipper Danny Murphy’s deflected long-range drive in stoppage time saved Fulham’s blushes and knocked League One Leicester out of the League Cup, but it was a very close run thing. The Foxes could count themselves unfortunate not to have got to extra time having come from behind to lead 2-1 shortly after half time.
Roy Hodgson resisted the temptation to rotate so early in the season and went with virtually a full-strength starting eleven, which initially looked set to pay dividends. The Whites dominated the early exchanges before Zoltan Gera fired them ahead just after the half hour mark, although the Hungarian’s speculative shot took a hefty deflection off the unfortunate Michael Morrison and left the Leicester goalkeeper completely helpless.
Bobby Zamora’s determination helped carve out a chance from a long ball by impressive newcomer Fredrik Stoor, but although the Premier League side had the edge, League One Leicester gave a good account of themselves.
Craven Cottage was, however, less than half full – despite reduced admission prices and Leicester bringing a fair contingent of around 2,000 fans from the Midlands. The visitors were far from overawed by facing Premier League opponents and played their part in what became a gloriously end-to-end Cup draw. Matty Fryatt did well to step up Steve Howard and the big forward stung the palms of Mark Schwarzer from the edge of the area.
Fulham replied through Bobby Zamora, who burst into action, unleashing a low drive that flew just wide. Then Danny Murphy fed Jimmy Bullard, whose snap-shot was deflected for a corner.
Fulham tried to work the same short-corner routine that undid Arsenal on Saturday but Leicester cleared their lines and suddenly Lloyd Dyer was off on an electric run three-quarters of the length of the pitch, finishing with a fine shot that Schwarzer had to smother at full stretch in the 12th minute.
Fryatt had a goalbound shot blocked at the other end soon afterwards and it was lively fare for the small crowd. The bustling and busy Zamora almost reached a probing right-wing cross by Simon Davies in the 20th minute when the former West Ham striker cleverly lost his marker at the far post. Then came the opening goal, with Stoor supplying an inviting ball after surging along the right flank and Morrison’s instinctive attempt to try and block Gera’s strike ended up costing the Foxes dear.
Fulham took 31 minutes to find the breakthrough but had to rely on a slice of luck with Michael Morrison’s own goal.
Zamora latched onto Stoor’s diagonal long ball from the right into the area but, challenged by two defenders, he had to turn it back for Zoltan Gera, who struck a low drive which David Martin might well have saved but for a deflection off the luckless Morrison taking it just inside a post.
Fulham had already looked sharp but the goal gave them a extra spring in their stride and for a while Leicester were left chasing shadows as Bullard and Murphy orchestrated attacks from the centre of midfield.
The Foxes kept sniffing for counter-raids, though, and from a Dyer corner both Paul Dickov and Howard flung themselves in at the far post only for the ball to just elude them.
Dickov ran to referee Paul Taylor, apparently complaining about shirt-pulling but the official was unmoved.
Dickov kept plugging away, though, and his left-foot shot was not far wide from 20 yards just before the break.
Fulham were not prepared for the amazing start to the second half – as Leicester turned their deficit into a 2-1 lead within four minutes of the restart.
Max-Alain Gradel replaced Fryatt at half-time and it was his shot which was half-blocked but only cleared as far as Dickov who drove it home in the 46th minute.
Stunned Fulham went straight downfield and Zamora’s shot was turned aside by Martin for a corner.
Zamora really should have restored Fulham’s lead instead of heading over from eight yards when unchallenged for the corner kick.
The punishment was severe – Leicester burst forward again through Dyer and when Andy King took possession just inside the area he curled a delightful right-footed shot around Schwarzer’s dive for 2-1 in the 49th minute.
And it could have been worse. Howard took advantage of growing panic in the home defence to steer a shot past Schwarzer two minutes later and Brede Hangeland had to clear from the line.
The visitors poured forward looking for a third goal, and they also defended stoutly to foil Fulham’s frantic attempts to repair the damage.
Inevitably the pressure grew on the League One side but their breakaways were dangerous and Schwarzer had to be smart off his line as Dickov chased a through-ball into the area.
Substitute Erik Nevland had the ball in the net for Fulham after 77 minutes to a great roar from the home crowd but there was no protest from Fulham when it was ruled offside.
But there was no doubt about Bullard’s spectacular equaliser in the 83rd minute. Davies’ pull back found the Fulham favourite on the edge of the area and he arrowed a right-foot drive into the top left-hand corner.
And luckless Leicester were undone when Murphy’s 25-yard blast in the last minute was deflected in for the winner.
FULHAM (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer; Stoor, Kallio, Hughes, Hangeland; Murphy, Bullard, Gera, Davies; Seol Ki-Hyeon; Zamora (Nevland 59). Subs (not used): Zuberbuhler, Pantsil, Baird, Andreasen, Teymourian, Dempsey.
GOALS: Gera (31), Bullard (83), Murphy (90).
LEICESTER CITY (4-4-2): Martin, Gilbert, Morrison, Tunchev, Powell, Dickov (Campbell 87), Wesolowski, A. King, Dyer, Fryatt (Gradel 46), Howard. Subs (not used): Henderson, Kishishev, Adams, Hobbs, C. King.
GOALS: Dickov (46), A. King (48).
REFEREE: Paul Taylor (Hertfordshire).