I’ve written before about how much of an enthusiast I am for the FA Cup. There’s no doubt that Saturday’s draw with Sunderland was a disappointment, but there were a number of reasons why I was pleased to have made the trip down to London for our fourth round tie. Firstly, it was an absolute cracker. Sunderland, who stand a decent chance of a second successive promotion, came to play and made it like a Cup contest of yesteryear. Both teams wanted to win and went for it. Just as hearteningly, nearly 23,000 fans came to the Cottage to watch it. Many were at their very first Fulham game and plenty probably wanted to test out the new Riverside Stand but there were treated to a terrific Cup tie. On a very selfish level, I now get the bonus of another Fulham game in the north east to attend – so I guess I should stick the superb Sunderland goalkeeper Anthony Patterson on my Christmas card list.

You could see by the way Marco Silva sent on Aleksandar Mitrovic almost as soon as Tom Cairney had equalised that Fulham wanted to avoid a replay. An extra game in as crowded a season as this as almost as welcome as remembering Mark Fotheringham wearing our lovely shirt, but it will at least give the management team another opportunity to assess a few players who aren’t in our regular starting line-up. Perhaps young Luke Harris might finally get a go in the number ten role. Who knows? The fact that a wide open contest ended as a draw was a blow, but all the credit for that has to go to Sunderland. Tony Mowbray’s side showed a ruthlessness that the Whites lacked in seizing upon a dreadful defensive error but they didn’t shut up shot after Jack Clarke’s early strike and continued to attack throughout. Poor old Chris Rigg was denied the sort of storybook moment only the FA Cup can conjure up – but the Black Cats and their brilliant supporters should take great heart from their afternoon by the Thames.

Fulham were far from their fluent past – and that isn’t as a surprise as the sparkling football that has characterised how Silva’s side have attacked the Premier League since August has been missing for a little while now. Part of that will be fatigue and part of it is down to opponents now planning for the more adventurous game plan. On Saturday, you had a mix and match team that didn’t have the benefit of continuity, although we shouldn’t discount how ferociously Sunderland battled for everything and put us on the back foot at times. It is clear that, without a key players, Fulham are a far less effective side and that is something that Silva and the club’s recruitment team are obviously trying to address with the rumoured late raids in the January transfer window.

There are a few principle areas of concern. Firstly, Issa Diop’s dozy start to proceedings was almost very costly indeed. Both he and Tosin Adarabioyo looked laboured in much of their play, but it was the Frenchman who took far too long to try and find Marek Rodak with a routine backpass. Clarke nipped in to finish with all the assurance of a winger who for Tottenham and Leeds not so long ago – and it proved to be an awfully long way back for the Whites. Diop duly took full responsibility for his mistake both in the changing room and in a Q&A with those in the Riverside after the final whistle, but such carelessness in concerning. Both centre backs were well below their best and there is a compelling argument that the mere presence of Tim Ream adds so much to the back four. Reassurance, for one thing.

Layvin Kurzawa had a torrid afternoon. He’s terrific going forward, as we saw at Hull, and as he demonstrated with a storming run and assist for Tom Cairney’s well-taken leveller. But, perhaps understandably for someone who has played merely five matches in almost eighteen months, he looks a little rusty with the bread and butter for a full back, which should be defensive positioning. The Frenchman was run ragged by a combination of Amad Diallo, who continued his fine form since swapping Old Trafford for the Stadium of Light on loan, and Patrick Roberts. It was quite bittersweet to see the brown eyed boy from the Fulham academy, the posterchild of our long sought-after academy one status, turning it on at Craven Cottage against Fulham. Kurzawa will need to be far better in the replay if we are to avoid another FA Cup humbling.

Poor old Harry Wilson is still struggling. I do think some of the online comments over the weekend seem to understate the impact of the dreadful knee injury he suffered courtesy of Tyrone Mings in the summer. It is a really difficult thing to get over, especially as he has been building up match sharpness mainly in cameos from the bench. As Peter Rutzler has written this morning, the Welshman just needs something to go his way in front of goal. He still has all of the skills that made him so effective for Fulham last season: the intelligent runs from out on the flank to a more central position, an ability to come alive in the penalty area and that familiar jink onto his left foot, but he has missed a number of chances to get on the scoresheet this season. You can see why Silva and his coaching staff still think he adds a missing ingredient – and Wilson was denied by a couple of great saves, but the winger badly needs a confidence boost.

Plenty of people were grumbling afterwards against Carlos Vinicius, but I thought the Brazilian did okay against two physical centre halves, who didn’t give an inch to Mitrovic either after he came on. Carlos can go scoreless for the rest of the season after heading that winner in the SW6 derby anyway for all I care. He’ll always be far more of a Fulham hero that Saturday’s recipient of the Forever Fulham award, Gary Elkins, who couldn’t leave for Wimbledon quick enough when a struggling side were in the doldrums. What was all that about?

We all sing about Silva being a genius, and justifiably so, given what he has achieved in eighteen months at Fulham, but I felt he got his substitutions wrong on Saturday. Taking off Cairney, who had scored a superb goal, and was giving us much more time and purpose on the ball lost the home side plenty of impetus. It might have been for fitness reasons, but without the captain, Fulham ceded the initiative. The balance of the side was also upset by the introduction of Bobby Decordova-Reid, which saw Manor Solomon shifted from the left wing into a more central role. The Israeli’s quick feet, creativity, and pace was the highlight of the afternoon from a home perspective. He had the beating of his full back almost every time and that incisiveness could have been valuable in the closing stages against a tired defence. Getting ninety minutes in Solomon’s legs was vital – and he could be a real difference maker in the second half of the season.

We’d all have preferred a routine victory with plenty of goals at the weekend. But this isn’t Football Manager. Things can’t always go swimmingly, even in such a sensational season. A replay is no bad thing. We had plenty of them in 1975. And, more recently, even our journey to the 2002 FA Cup semi-final had a stumble against Wycombe Wanderers in the early stages. For the long-term health of the world’s oldest Cup competition, a thrilling draw wasn’t the worst result.