Fulham secured just their second win in ten matches thanks to first-half goals from Bryan Ruiz and skipper Dan Burn but caretaker manager Kit Symons was relieved to be in the hat for the fourth round after a second half Doncaster Rovers revival was only halted by a late penalty save from goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli.
Symons, whose hopes of succeeding Felix Magath on a permanent basis will have been boosted by this victory, saw his side take a two g0al lead after imposing themselves on their League One opponents from the outset. Bryan Ruiz, making only his second start of the season following an outstanding World Cup with Costa Rica, opened the scoring with a touch of international class. The Fulham playmaker arrived just inside the box to expertly drive home Hugo Rodallega’s inviting knock down from Fernando Amorebieta’s crossfield pass to put Fulham in front midway through the first half.
The home side had already spurned two glorious chances to go ahead in the first couple of minutes. Ross McCormack was denied the dream start inside thirty seconds by a superb reaction save from Jed Steer after the Scottish international striker had skipped effortlessly past two challenges to create enough space for a shot. Rodallega wasted an even better opening five minutes later when he brought down Emerson Hydnman’s fine through ball expertly but the former Wigan forward contrived to send his shot wide of the far post as he raced in on goal.
Doncaster served notice of their intentions and made have gone in front when themselves had Marcus Bettinelli not handled the ball outside his penalty area after Paul Keegan had beaten Dan Burn to a long ball and threatened to run through on goal. The referee deemed that Bettinelli’s slip that took him out of the area was accidental and that he was not denying a goalscoring opportunity given that Keegan was running away from goal. Dean Furman then went close with two long shots – the first deflecting off Burn and landing on the roof of Bettinelli’s net – and the second dragged wide from a cleverly worked corner.
Fulham were pressing forward themselves and Kostas Stafylidis, deployed on the left of three central midfielders, almost doubled the lead in emphatic style but Steer was able to fist away his powerful shot from twenty yards. The Whites didn’t have to wait long for a second goal, however, after a quickly-taken corner and a one-two between Ruiz and McCormack saw the captain head home his first goal for the club from McCormack’s flighted cross to the back post.
If the home fans were then expecting a comfortable cruise into the next post, it didn’t materialise. Doncaster manager Paul Dickov threw on striker Theo Robinson and former Brentford midfielder Harry Forrester at half-time in an attempt to galvanise his troops and it worked as Rovers battled their way back into the contest. First, experienced winger Jamie Coppinger burst into the box and cut inside Dan Burn before curling a superb finish into the far corner with his right foot from an acute angle. Then, Forrester escaped a couple of challenges before bringing a fine low save out of Bettinelli, before referee Kevin Friend harshly adjudged that Tim Hoogland had handled a header from Robinson, despite being barely two yards away. The substitute took the spot-kick himself but perhaps justice was done as Bettinelli sprung to his right and saved a tame penalty.
McCormack might have made the game safe in the closing stages but for a brilliant save from Steer who somehow got his fingertips to a curling free-kick that seemed destined to find the top corner and Fulham were undoubtedly relieved to hear the final whistle.
FULHAM (4-3-2-1): Bettinelli; Hoogland, Bodurov, Burn, Amorebieta (Kavanagh 69); Christensen, Hyndman, Stafylidis (Parker 72); Ruiz (G. Williams 81), McCormack; Rodallega. Subs (not used): Kiraly, Roberts, David, Woodrow.
BOOKED: Bettinelli, Bodurov,
GOALS: Ruiz (16), Burn (32).
DONCASTER ROVERS (4-2-3-1): Steer; Wakefield (McCombe 89), Evina, Warbara, McCullough; Wellens (Robinson 45), Keegan; Coppinger, Furman, Bennett (Forrester 45); Tyson. Subs (not used): Marosi, Askins, De Val, Ferguson.
GOAL: Coppinger (60).
REFEREE: Kevin Friend (Leicester).