Boy, that was a bit scary wasn’t it? We all know Fulham down make it easy for themselves but for a while in a dismal second half performance there only looked like there was going to be one winner … and it definitely wasn’t the boys in the white shirts.
Credit to Hodgson’s substitutes for infusing us with a little more purpose. Roy wouldn’t have expected to have to turn to Murphy and Zamora with the game in the balance but they both came off the bench to great effect in the clsoing stages. After one woeful header (at which Hodgson made no attempt to conceal his displeasure), it was good to see Bobby go in bravely for what seemed a lost cause at the far post to set up the crucial third and drive home the fourth from the edge of the box just a few moments later. It was pleasing to see the character of the side – surely I wasn’t the only one to think we might settle for a replay (or even fold) after Kettering’s late penalty.
Brede Hangeland was far from the assured figure we’ve come to know at the heart of the defence – indeed his careless header nearly let the lively Craig Westcarr in but the forward showed what seemed, on the basis of his involvement in the game later, an uncharacteristic lack of composure and we survived the danger.
In fact, we played very well for the first half an hour or so. Hodgson went with Leon Andreasen and Dickson Etuhu in central midfield (the less said about the Nigerian’s shambolic performance the better) with the anonymous Gera and Simon Davies wide. Clint Dempsey might have been intended to partner Andy Johnson but spent much of the afternoon floating into the spaces behind our main striker. The roaming nature of Dempsey’s performance suited us in the 12th minute when the American drifted out to the right, took the ball away from Nicky Eaden with a lovely bit of skill and saw his inviting cross lashed home on the volley by Davies.
It looked for a while as though we might control the contest. Andreasen missed a couple of good openings from the edge of the box and Dempsey might have done better than to head straight at Lee Harper when he was picked out by the maurauding Fredrik Stoor, who had an encouraging game at right back.
The Swede seemed rather unfortunate to give away a soft free-kick when Westcarr tumbled over on the edge of the box and that decision proved costly. It was a mess rather of our own making as we left a gaping hole in our wall and were punished. Frank Lampard snuck a free-kick through the gap at the Cottage after Christmas and this time Westcarr’s shot hit Gera and wrongfooted Mark Schwarzer.
Kettering only ramped up the pressure after the break. They deserve the plaudits that should come their way over the next few days for their spirit, endeavour and no little quality they showed – especially in the second half. As some readers may know, I watched a fair bit of Conference football during my time at university in Exeter, and for a side at that level, they played a fair bit of football.
As I said above, we could well have been behind long before Murphy and Bobby were summoned from the bench. Gareth Seddon, whose confidence that his team could beat us didn’t seem misplaced, squandered a golden opportunity when he beat Hangeland and Hughes to a through ball but hurried his shot which dribbled wide. Richard Graham’s mazy run might have resulted in a second deflected goal but Schwarzer was alert at his near post to prevent a calamity. Captain John Dempster should have scored when he placed his free header over the bar – and Westcarr missed a decent chance after turning Hangeland with alarming ease.
I was surprised that it took Hodgson so long to bring Etuhu off but perhaps by leaving Andreasen out there he may be hinting that Leon could be the one to line up alongside Murphy at the Stadium of Light on Tuesday. I certainly hope so. I don’t like to rush to judgement about new players but Dickson was really poor today. Our skipper made an immediate impact mind you. He collected a clever pass from Davies and drove home a second from the edge of the box, but it took a cruel deflection off the magnificently named Exodus Geohaghon on its way in.
That wasn’t the end of the drama. We’d hardly got our breath back when Mike Riley was reaching for his cards in the penalty area. Hangeland hauled down the dangerous Westcarr and might have been fortunate to stay on the field even if there was minimal contact. Little Wescarr made no mistake with the penalty and it looked like we’d be heading back to the Cottage for a replay.
That was to reckon without Zamora’s late intervention. Johnson made a point of congratulating his strike partner after his goal which owed its close range simplicity to Zamora’s persistance at the far post. Many might have left that cross to drift out or into the goalkeeper’s arms – especially given how low Bobby’s confidence must have been given his barren run – but Bobby challenged Harper and Johnson was on hand to head past two defenders from about five years out. The relief was palpable when Zamora thumped home his fourth – but that’s what it was, relief.
KETTERING TOWN (4-4-2): Harper; Eaden, Geohaghan, Dempster, Jaszczun (Potter 71); Bennett, Boucaud, Solkhon, R. Graham (Marna 89); Westcarr, Seddon (Beardlsey 73). Subs (not used): Wrack, Galbraith.
BOOKED: R. Graham, Dempster, Westcarr.
GOALS: Westcarr (36, pen 83)
FULHAM (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer; Stoor, Konchesky, Hughes, Hangeland; Andreasen, Etuhu (Murphy 69), Gera (Zamora 69), Davies; Dempsey; A. Johnson. Subs (not used): Zuberbuhler, Pantsil, Nevland, Kallio, Baird.
GOALS: Davies (12), Murphy (77), A. Johnson (88), Zamora (89).
REFEREE: Mike Riley (Yorkshire).