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Parker pans below-par Fulham

Scott Parker savaged his Fulham side after they crashed out of the FA Cup at the hands of Burnley this afternoon – saying the Whites fell well short of the standards he expects.

The Fulham manager made eight changes from the team that were narrowly beaten by Manchester United in midweek but none of the newcomers pressed a claim to start this week’s crunch games at Brighton and West Brom. Burnley were in complete control from the off and booked a fifth round tie against either Bournemouth or Crawley courtesy of a brace from Jay Rodriguez’s and Kevin Long’s late third.

Parker was bitterly disappointed with Fulham’s tame showing, telling his post-match press conference:

“We didn’t deserve a result today. It was a tough game and we couldn’t match what we had to face today, we couldn’t deal with them. We fell very short of the standards we’re used to seeing. We all understood the challenges and we couldn’t deal with it too well and get a foothold in the game. Burnley were well worthy of the win.”

The Fulham boss was similarly pessimistic about the potential for new arrivals before the closure of the January transfer window, saying ‘I’m not sure that’s going to happen’. Pressed on potential outgoings, Parker admitted some fringe players may leave the club with Stefan Johansen’s rumoured departure for QPR on loan ‘a possibility’.

Rodriguez brace helps Burnley breeze past Fulham

Scott Parker might have been very clear about where his priorities lie ahead of this FA Cup fourth round tie, but the Fulham boss can’t have been enamoured by this feeble display as his side were totally outplayed by a second-string Burnley side. The Clarets were in complete command from the off, with Jay Rodriguez ending a nineteen-match scoreless streak with a brace that put the game out of the Cottagers’ reach before Kevin Long ensured the scoreline more accurately reflected the visitors’ dominance with a late third.

Parker had spoken passionately in the week of growing up with the FA Cup but that Fulham’s perilous league predicament meant he would have to prioritise the two massive meetings with relegation rivals this week. Those games at Brighton and West Brom are arguably the acid test of whether his side, reshaped and competitive in the top flight as opposed to the cannon fodder that lost their first four fixtures, can mount a genuine survival bid. The manager’s call for fringe players to stake a claim for selection went unheeded as Burnley, carrying all the confidence that a win at Anfield provides, bossed the first half.

The only surprise was that it took Sean Dyche’s side half an hour to go in front. Michael Hector’s metamorphosis from the decisive figure who denied Cardiff with an incredible goal-saving tackle in last season’s play-offs to a doddery defender utterly devoid of confidence has been alarming and he endured an utterly miserable afternoon here. He could point to the heavy pitch, a consequence of the blanket of snow that covered west London this morning, as a reason for the untimely slip that would have allowed Matej Vydra to give Burnley an early lead save for an offside flag – but there was little mitigation for the rest of an error-strewn display.

The former Watford forward spurned a host of good chances to reward Burnley’s high-octane opening, miscuing wastefully wide after a speculative strike from Phil Bardsley had almost squirmed away from Marek Rodak. The Slovakian international did make a smart save to deny him moments later after Dwight McNeil had sent Vydra clear of a horribly square Fulham defence with a slide rule pass, but the hosts goal was leading a charmed life.

Their luck ran out just after the half hour mark when Jack Cork’s right-wing cross was gleefully glanced in by Rodriguez, who hadn’t scored since an equaliser against Liverpool way back in July. The one-time England international has happy memories of facing Fulham – having opened his Clarets account with a late winner against Whites in the League Cup in 2008 – and he was generously afforded the freedom of the penalty area by Hector to loop his header over a stranded Rodak.

Parker’s side, with eight changes from the team that had pushed Manchester United all the way in midweek, were passive and offered very little in the way of an attacking threat in the first period. Aleksandar Mitrovic could have done with his close range header not being ruled out for offside, but the Serbian still looks worrying short of his belligerent best, and neither he nor Aboubakar Kamara – paired together in a 3-5-2 formation that rarely troubled Burnley – offered Parker much of an incentive to start with them ahead of Ivan Cavaleiro on the south coast on Wednesday.

Fulham did at least start the second period at a far higher tempo with Joe Bryan’s raids down the left flank providing a sense of adventure that had been sorely lacking. The left wing-back came the closest to grabbing an equaliser being denied by a brilliant Bailey Peacock-Farrell save when an inviting cross from Bobby Decordova-Reid dropped onto his right foot. The Northern Ireland international reacted well to foil two follow-ups from Mitrovic at his near post, but rather than prompting a spell of Fulham pressure, the home side’s purposeful start petered out.

It was Burnley who looked the likelier to add another goal, although they were generously assisted by more calamitous Fulham defending. Ream lingered in possession thirty years from his own goal, was robbed by Vydra, who went too wide in trying to round Tosin Adarabioyo and Rodak, and Dale Stephens’ subsequent shot was blocked. But there was no escaping when a woeful piece of distribution from Ream allowed Vydra a clear run on the Fulham goal and Hector barged him unceremoniously to the floor. Rodriguez stroked the spot-kick down the centre of the goal and the away side had an unassailable lead.

A flurry of changes followed with Ruben Loftus-Cheek, impressive in the second half against Manchester United, producing a fine pass to set Kamara clear. The French forward was first denied by Peacock-Farrell’s fingertips before James Tarkowski got back to clear off the line just in time. Long added a third with nine minutes left, bundling home from inside the six-yard box after former Fulham trainee Johann Berg Gudmundsson had managed to kept a keep a lost cause alive. That commitment typified Burnley’s professionalism – and you have to worry about what impact this abject defeat will have on Fulham’s confidence heading into a pair of pivotal fixtures.

FULHAM (3-5-2): Rodak; Adarabioyo (Odoi 82), Hector, Ream; Decordova-Reid (Kebano 68), Lemina (Carvalho 82), Anguissa (Loftus-Cheek 68), Onomah; Kamara, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Areola, Tete, Reed, Cavaleiro, Lookman.

BOOKED: Kamara.

BURNLEY (4-4-2): Peacock-Farrell; Bardsley, Pieters (Lowton 87), Tarkowski (Dunne 86), Long; Cork, Stephens, Gudmundsson, McNeil (Bensen 86); Rodriguez (Mumbongo 89), Vydra. Subs (not used): Norris, Mee, Brownhill, Westwood, Wood.

BOOKED: Tarkowski, Long.

GOALS: Rodriguez (31, pen 71), Long (81).

REFEREE: Andy Madley (West Yorkshire).

VIDEO ASSISTANT REFEREE: Chris Kavanagh (Lancashire).

‘Earn your starting spot’, Parker tells Mitrovic

Scott Parker has challenged Aleksandar Mitrovic to prove himself worthy of regaining his starting spot by firing Fulham into the fifth round of the FA Cup against Burnley this weekend.

The Serbian striker has started just a single Premier League game since November – the 1-1 draw against his former club Newcastle – and Ivan Cavaleiro has been preferred as a more mobile option in Parker’s new-look 3-4-3 system. The Fulham boss wants Mitrovic, who has scored just three goals this season after winning the Championship golden boot last term, to rediscover his mojo.

“He had 10 minutes against Manchester United, [if] the opportunity comes for a start against Burnley or a start against Brighton, they are all big opportunities. I think Mitro would be the first to say that this season’s probably not taken off as well as he would have liked. That’s not just Mitro, there are a few probably in that bracket.

“I know for sure this year…he’s probably the first to be a little bit disappointed, but I also know for sure that he has a big part to play. He has a big part to play along with everyone else in this squad, and at this moment the facts are that he’s come out of the team, the team have done relatively well and that’s part of Premier League football.

“That’s part of competition, part of being in the league and the competition in the squad. This is part and parcel of it and what drives the top players on, what keeps pushing those players to get to where they get to – and this is where Mitro will be. I’ve seen that [hard graft] on a daily basis, of course.

“But again, I always say to the players first and foremost you have to have a big self-reflection hitting back at you and understand where things are, and always having that foundation that through graft, through hard work to keep practising, keep working tirelessly, your quality always comes through.

“Dips in form, you often find with strikers that’s what happens – it’s the reason they are the headline makers. They have got the hardest job to do, and you often find a little dip in form probably affects strikers more than any other position on the pitch, maybe keepers as well. But quality always shines through and he has to keep grafting away. Hopefully then [it] will turn, and I know it will with that outlook.”

When Simon Morgan and Steve Hayward knocked Aston Villa out of the FA Cup

Twenty two years ago today, little old Fulham made the football world sit up and take notice. They had been the moneybags of the lower leagues for a little while, with Mohamed Al Fayed’s takeover at Craven Cottage and a sprinkling of star dust of big names sparking a push for promotion from the Second Division, after the harsh dismissal of cult hero Micky Adams made way for Ray Wilkins and Kevin Keegan – but a January trip to Premier League leaders Aston Villa in the FA Cup had the Whites firmly in the footballing spotlight.

A visit to Villa Park was particularly special for two Fulham stalwarts. Simon Morgan, who had toiled away as a tenacious utility man for more than a decade in the club’s darkest days, grew up as a massive Birmingham City supporter. He was inconsolable as a youngster when John Mitchell’s late winner settled the 1975 FA Cup semi-final replay in Fulham’s favour and was never going to miss the chance to take on Villa, even if he hadn’t played since December having injured his calf. There was something written in the stars about how he soared effortlessly to head home Steve Hayward’s corner after just eight minutes.

Hayward, a star of the Carlisle side that had earned promotion alongside the Londoners from the Third Division, became a regular fixture in the Whites’ midfield for a few years – an understated but classy performer alongside far more prominent names – was a boyhood Villa fan, who trained with the club as a youngster before beginning his professional career with Derby County. He had spent the week organising tickets for an assorted cast of friends and family and there’s a story, possibly apocryphal, that you can see some of them celebrating his deflected free-kick in the Holte End, where Hayward stood as a youngster, that doubled the lead on the stroke of half-time.

The whole day was had a dream-like quality about it. The masses of Fulham fans heading to the Midlands by train, car and coach then staring disbelievingly as their yellow-shirted heroes completely outplayed John Gregory’s league leaders. It was the day that you felt the Whites were finally going places. Keegan’s tactical masterstroke – switching to a back three to mirror Villa’s own system – worked so flawlessly that Maik Taylor was only seriously troubled once, when Julian Joachim raced clear but couldn’t convert. Morgan slotted in alongside Chris Coleman and Kit Symons, whilst the likes of Hayward, Wayne Collins and veteran Paul Bracewell swarmed all over Villa from first whistle to last and kept the ball with the poise of a Premier League outfit themselves.

It was also an afternoon where several Fulham stars proved they could play at the highest level. We weren’t in ‘Horsfield for England’ territory just yet, but the big ex-bricklayer posed all sorts of problems for Gareth Southgate in the air and dovetailed brilliantly with Paul Peschisolido up front – in the typical little and large partnership. Both had chances to add an even more convincing look to the scoreline only for the now-England manager to produce last-ditch tackles. Steve Finnan, not long previously who had been a forward with Notts County, and Rufus Brevett shone as wing-backs long before the positions were in vogue and it was no exaggeration to reflect afterwards that the Whites controlled proceedings throughout.

The post-match headlines were dominated by the fact that Stan Collymore, soon to have his own underwhelming loan sepll at the Cottage, had been a no-show for the Villains. Gregory could still pick most of the side that had carried Villa to the top of the table that season and there was no tarnishing this triumph for the delirious travelling support. Fulham’s Cup run, almost improbably ended by Leigh RMI in round one, would finish agonisingly at Old Trafford in round five as speculation about Keegan’s departure for national service gathered pace but this was one of the finest away afternoons in the club’s unique history.

ASTON VILLA (3-5-2): Oakes; Ehiogu, Southgate, Barry; Watson, Hendrie, I. Taylor, Scimeca, Wright (Vassell 59); Merson, Joachim. Subs (not used): Rachel, Grayson, Ferraresi, Hughes.

BOOKED: Ehiogu, Hendrie, Watson. 

FULHAM (3-5-2): M. Taylor; Symons, Morgan, Coleman; Finnan, Collins, Bracewell, Hayward, Brevett; Peschisolido (Smith 82), Horsfield. Subs (not used): Arendse, Trollope, Salako, Hayles.

BOOKED: Finnan, Smith.

GOALS: Morgan (8), Hayward (45).

REFEREE: David Elleray (Harrow-on-the-Hill).


Carvalho and Jasper earn FA Cup call-up

Fabio Carvalho and Sylvester Jasper could gain more first-team experience in the FA Cup this weekend after Fulham boss Scott Parker included them in his squad for Sunday’s meeting with Burnley.

Parker is poised to ring the changes after the Whites completed a gruelling run of three games in seven days and with an eye on two crucial relegation six pointers next week. The teenage duo have both been tested and admitted to the senior squad bubble at Motspur Park in preparation for an opportunity to shine – probably over the bench – against Sean Dyche’s side at Craven Cottage this weekend.

Parker told his pre-match press conference earlier this afternoon:

They’ve both got tested and have come back into our bubble. Both will be involved at the weekend and it may be an opportunity for them. We’ll see how they train and go from there.

Nineteen year-old winger Jasper made his professional debut in the FA Cup last season as a substitute in the fourth round defeat at Manchester City. He went on to make two further appearances from the bench in the league and has starred for Fulham’s under 23s this term, scoring four times in six league appearances and adding two assists.

England youth international Carvalho, who can play either out wide or as a number ten, was handed his senior bow in the League Cup win over Sheffield Wednesday in September and nearly made an immediate impact by almost scoring with an impudent chip. The prodigiously gifted eighteen year-old has scored eight goals as in as many games for the under 23s this term, adding five assists.