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Fulham 0-1 Sheff Utd FAC 4th Rnd Rply 1314 The Guardian

last updated Wednesday 05th February 2014, 9:17 AM

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James Riach at The Guardian

Fulham (0) 0 Sheff Utd (0) 0 ~ AET 0-1

This could hardly have been a worse night for René Meulensteen and Fulham. After 120 minutes of diabolical football, the Premier League side crashed out of the FA Cup to League One Sheffield United without the trace of a whimper, another blot on a campaign that is rapidly descending into the abyss.

Yet as a volley of boos echoed round Craven Cottage at the full-time whistle while Meulensteen and entourage trudged across the pitch in the soaking rain, Nigel Clough and United's players celebrated gleefully in front of their raucous travelling support. How the Blades deserved it, following a display full of guts and endeavour to earn a place in the fifth round against either Nottingham Forest or Preston.

As the substitute Shaun Miller stooped to nod in Harry Maguire's knock-down with a few seconds of extra-time remaining, Fulham fans flooded towards the exit doors. United's support were delirious and they stayed long after the final whistle to applaud their side, who belied their league position to secure a famous evening and ease the pain of a campaign threatened by relegation.

One wonders what Konstantinos Mitroglou thought of all this. Fulham's £11m deadline-day signing sat in the stands shivering, wrapped up in a blanket. The Greek forward will surely not have been encouraged by a dreadful display in filthy conditions, where nothing much of note happened save Hugo Rodallega appearing to be inconsolable in the dugout after being substituted and jeered in the second half.

For Clough, though, there were contrasting emotions. "It's elation, especially for the lad who's scored," he said. "He's had a baby recently so it's a special time for him and he has been struggling coming back from injury."

"We came here to enjoy it, it's not the grind of League One. We've had a couple of breaks in the FA Cup which we haven't had in the league. I do feel for René and Ray [Wilkins] because you know that feeling when something goes in and you feel that everything is against you."

Anyone who had the misfortune to sit through this game would not have found it difficult to understand why both of these sides are languishing in the lower reaches of their respective divisions. Neither Fulham nor United could muster a goal during 90 dismal minutes of football, although the Blades were certainly the more content to go into the extra half-hour.

Meulensteen made eight changes to the side that lost poorly against Southampton at the weekend, with only Brede Hangeland, Dan Burn and Scott Parker surviving in the starting XI. Clough, meanwhile, made four alterations of his own to a struggling team that also fell to defeat by a three-goal margin in their most recent league match.

Jamie Murphy's shot from 25 yards flashed past David Stockdale's right-hand post after two minutes and, although neither side came closer to a goal in the first half, it was certainly the visitors who left the field having given a better account of themselves.

Indeed, the travelling supporters from south Yorkshire were enjoying themselves to such an extent that the chant "that's why you're going down" emanated from the away end as Patjim Kasami headed tamely wide after 20 minutes following a free-kick down the left-hand side from Alexander Kacaniklic.

Fulham fans, having seen their side score only once in their last four games, began to vent their frustration when Hangeland aimlessly lumped a ball forward from deep that sailed over the Blades defence and out for a goal-kick. The home side were beginning to control possession but with little to show for it in terms of scoring opportunities.

Their unease continued throughout the match until the final whistle but Meulensteen called on the supporters not to turn on their side in the future.

"I understand their frustration. I think everyone involved in Fulham will feel that but the most important message is to the fans: don't add to the problemswe already have but be a part of the solution," he said. "Make sure you stick together, make sure you keep supporting the team and the players, most importantly. This is the time when you need the fans the most.

"It's always easy when everything is hunky-dory and great. That's why fans are called supporters. That's what we need, support."

Asked if he feared for his job, Meulensteen added: "I just keep doing my job the best that I can. I have no worries in that respect at all."

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