Fulham were indebted to a sensational late strike from Greek veteran Giorgos Karagounis as they escaped from their FA Cup third round meeting with Blackpool with a barely deserved draw.
The Seasiders appeared about to add another chapter to their illustrious Cup history – nearly sixty years after Sir Stanley Matthews inspired them to lift the trophy in a memorable Wembley final – when Ludovic Sylvestre stunned Craven Cottage with a fine finish on the hour mark. They were just ten minutes away from a significant shock when Karagounis, who had driven Fulham forward throughout, conjured up a stunning individual strike – but on the balance of this encounter you wouldn’t be rushing to back Martin Jol’s men ahead of the replay.
Blackpool began on the back foot with Alex Baptiste just about diverting Karagounis’ brilliant through ball away from Dimitar Berbatov and past his own post. But the visitors came to play and in Tom Ince they have one of English football’s hottest young talents. The winger nearly put his side in front on thirteen minutes after linking up well with Chris Basham and stinging the palms of David Stockdale with a powerful drive.
Bryan Ruiz had a free-kick turned aside by Matt Gilks and saw another shot blocked but Blackpool were far from overawed by their top flight opposition. Sylvestre was only denied an opener by an excellent saving tackle from Sidwell and then veteran striker Kevin Phillips engineered another chance for Ince with a delightful backheel – only for Stockdale to make a smart save down to his right.
Martin Jol introduced Hugo Rodallega in an attempt to add more firepower to his attack early in the second half, but it was Blackpool who stunned Craven Cottage by seizing the lead. Nathan Delfouneso found himself free on the left angle of the penalty area and squared expertly for Sylvestre to find the bottom corner with a precise finish from the edge of the box.
Fulham poured forward in search of an equaliser but Blackpool bravely stood firm, blocking shots from Berbatov and Ruiz. Just as it looked like they had weathered the storm, the home side equalised with ten minutes remaining courtesy of a moment of magic from Karagounis. The away side appeared to have cleared the danger from a corner but nobody expected Karagounis to beat Gilks with a dipping volley from an acute angle on the right flank. It was a sensational goal – but it definitely bailed below-par Fulham out of jail.
The Premier League side should have won it at the end. Ruiz rattled the crossbar with a header from Kieran Richardson’s cross and Rodallega somehow contrived to miss an open goal from a corner in stoppage time.
FULHAM (4-4-1-1): Stockdale; Riether, Briggs (Frei 72), Hughes, Hangeland; Karagounis, Sidwell, Dejagah (Rodallega 54), Kacaniklic (Richardson 70); Ruiz; Berbatov. Subs (not used): Somogyi, Senderos, Baird, Kasami.
GOAL: Karagounis (80).
BLACKPOOL (4-4-2): Gilks; Eardley, Baptiste, Broadfoot, Harris (Crainey 82); Basham, Osbourne, Sylvestre, Ince; K. Phillips (Eccleston 90), Delfouneso. Subs (not used): Halstead, Gomes, Cathcart, Bruna, Martinez.
GOAL: Sylvestre (60)
REFEREE: Lee Mason (Lancashire)