It’s the hope that kills you. Fulham fans can’t be too disappointed with bowing out at the quarter final stage of the FA Cup given the last couple of seasons that Roy Hodgson has overseen, masterminding a run to the last eight of the Europa League only two years after engineering one of the most remarkable escapes from relegation by an English club, but after a superb first half performance at White Hart Lane last season, Tottenham’s second-half fightback was galling to say the least.
Fulham, unfancied and not expected to deliver a great deal of quality away from home, utterly dominated the first half. Hodgson’s selection was a little surprising. Chris Baird was dropped, somewhat harshly given his outstanding performances this term, and Stephen Kelly brought in to play at right back, with the thinking presumably being that a proper full-back was needed to contain Gareth Bale. Clint Dempsey was left on the bench, with Zoltan Gera playing once again in behind Bobby Zamora.
The red and black shirts warmed to the task quickly. Zamora, who is much more than a battering ram of a lone frontman, asked plenty of questions of Michael Dawson and Sebastien Bassong and his display was all the more impressive when Hodgson revealed that he was suffering from a stomach bug and had been violently sick during the first half and at half-time. Early shots from Danny Murphy and Simon Davies – the latter drawing a fine save from Heurelho Gomes – illustrated Fulham’s attacking intent before Hodgson’s side took the lead with a goal of real quality.
A patient build up in midfield saw Damien Duff drive dangerously towards the edge of the Tottenham penalty area and slip a smart pass through for Zamora, whose intelligent run took him clear on goal. Zamora took a touch to steady himself and calmly slotted his seventeenth goal of the season into the far corner. Not a bad retort to those who reckoned he wasn’t good enough for this level, largely on the basis of a poor goalscoring record at Spurs. Cue delirium in the away sections of the South Stand.
While Fulham still played their pretty passing and looked to be dictating the game, Spurs did still have chances. Eidur Gudjohnsen might have been a little fortunate in getting away from Brede Hangeland, but he did well to test Mark Schwarzer after Peter Crouch’s lay-off found him with his back to goal, and the former Chelsea forward’s clever chest control created an opportunity for Luka Modric. The little Croatian should have done better than shoot wide from a central position just outside the box.
Hodgson’s side might have gone in at half-time with a two-goal lead – and looking back now you wonder whether that was a necessity given the way Redknapp must have ripped into his team at half-time. Kelly found Gera in space down the right and the Hungarian stood a deep cross up to far post, where Zamora had been left completely unattended. Unfortunately, the ball in was slightly too deep and, as Zamora attempted to adjust to it dropped behind him, he sent his header over.
Redknapp gambled at half time, introducing David Bentley and Tom Huddlestone to try and breathe some life into a lacklustre Spurs midfield. It worked, but only with some help from the visitors. Kelly committed a silly foul out on the Tottenham left as Bale looked to take the ball past him and Bentley’s floated free-kick flew into the Fulham net. Schwarzer’s attempt to keep it out was hindered by the presence of a clearly offside Corluka – who may or may not have touched it on the way in – but three Fulham defenders were culpable in letting the ball travel that far.
Suddenly, the aim of lasting 15 minutes without conceding became not suffering fatal damage, but a visibly tiring Fulham side (this was our 50th game of the season) couldn’t manage that. The goal lifted Tottenham, who began to pop the ball around with real intent, and looked dangerous every time they went forward. Crouch narrowly missed a right-wing cross with the goal gaping but a Spurs second wasn’t long in coming.
Roman Pavlyuchenko, who had come through a late test on a thigh injury he suffered at Stoke, was a rather adventurous replacement for the injured Corluka, but the Russian had an almost instant impact. Bentley skipped away from Konchesky down the right and whipped over a dangerous ball that was again wasn’t defended well. Kelly allowed Pavlyuchenko plenty of space at the far post and the Russian gleefully drove home a left-footed volley. Schwarzer might have been disappointed to be beaten at his near post and Pavlyuchenko’s ninth goal in eight games (not bad for a striker Harry was happy to get rid off) shattered Fulham.
The decisive third arrived just six minutes later. Crouch cleverly worked a bit of space for Modric, who galloped into space as worried Fulham defenders backed off. His through ball arrived at Gudjohnsen’s feet, thanks to a deflection off a desperate Aaron Hughes, and the Icelandic veteran stabbed the ball beyond a committed Schwarzer. Credit to Fulham, who kept fighting, as one would expect. Dempsey entered a little late, and there was a lively cameo from Stefano Okaka, but Fulham’s only serious chance came courtesy of a first-time shot from Duff.
Given what had gone before this was a rather meek ending but there’s plenty to be proud of as this magnificent season trundles towards a conclusion that remains unknown.
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR (4-4-2): Gomes; Corluka (Pavlyuchenko 53), Assou-Ekotto (Huddlestone 45), Dawson, Bassong; Palacios, Modric, Kranjcar (Bentley 45), Bale; Crouch, Gudjohnsen. Subs (not used): Alnwick, Livermore, Townsend, Rose.
GOALS: Bentley (47), Pavlyuchenko (60), Gudjohnsen (66).
FULHAM (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer; Kelly (Dempsey 69), Konchesky, Hughes, Hangeland; Etuhu, Murphy, Duff, Davies; Gera; Zamora (Okaka 77). Subs (not used): Zuberbuhler, Smalling, Baird, Greening, Riise.
BOOKED: Kelly, Zamora.
GOAL: Zamora (17).
REFEREE: Martin Atkinson (West Yorkshire).