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Fulham 3-0 Norwich FAC 3rd Rnd Rply 1314 Daily Mail

last updated Wednesday 15th January 2014, 10:27 AM
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Laurie Whitwell at Daily Mail

Fulham (2) 3 Norwich(0) 0

The relevance of the FA Cup may have been undermined by top-flight managers for some time but Chris Hughton discovered how crucial it remains.

A comprehensive defeat to a team just one point and one place below Norwich in the Barclays Premier League increases the pressure on Hughton's position ahead of the visit of Hull on Saturday, in what is shaping up to be the biggest test of his career at Carrow Road.

Fulham outclassed Norwich in this third round replay, providing Rene Meulensteen with the kind of morale boost Hughton can only hope for at the moment.

It is Meulensteen who can look forward to a date with Sheffield United at Bramall Lane on January 26 in the next round.

For Hughton, defeat to a team also fighting the drop - who had made nine changes - will not be looked fondly upon by a board that invested upwards of £20million in the summer.

Norwich have not won in eight games - failing to score more than one in match during that time - and only once really threatened Maarten Stekelenburg in the Fulham goal here.

Hughton insisted was not contemplating the sack and would instantly switch his focus to Hull. 'My only concern is doing the job to the best of my ability and getting results for the team,' he said. 'These are the pressures that come with the game. The only way you alleviate pressure is by winning games. At the moment we are hurting.

He added: 'My only concern is to plan for a very tough game on Saturday, we have to do everything we can to win. We are just three points away from 10th place.'

Meulensteen was never part of a successful FA Cup campaign in six years as Sir Alex Ferguson's right hand man.

His priority this season remains Premier League survival of course.

But as each goal for his team hit the back of the Norwich net there were celebrations of pumped fists and full gusto. Perhaps he wouldn't mind a Cup run to make up for those years of disappointment in this competition after all.

Tuesday night was the third meeting between Fulham and Norwich in 19 days as the empty seats betrayed. Hughton swapped six from the starting XI which lost 2-0 to Everton, while Meulensteen made nine alterations after the 4-1 defeat to Sunderland here three days previously.

In fairness, it meant recalls for important figures in Maarten Stekelenburg, who has been out for three weeks with an ankle injury, and Brede Hangeland, who needed surgery to overcome a back complaint that has sidelined him since the 4-1 win at Crystal Palace in late October.

Hangeland was excellent on his return and ensured a first clean sheet for Fulham in eight games.

'It's a very big boost,' said Meulensteen. 'It's great to see that he came through the 90 minutes very well. We all know our defensive record is not good and needs to be improved upon.'

The trip to Arsenal on Saturday may come too soon for Hangeland's league return, though.

Meulensteen added: 'It's good that we had this Cup game. We can get into good habits.'

Norwich started brightly. Josh Murphy, 18, danced in off the left flank and fed a cute ball to Nathan Redmond, who forced a good save from Stekelenburg. The ball broke loose and Robert Snodgrass sent a curling shot from distance crashing against the bar.

But it was to be the only moment to excite the Norwich fans, travelling to the banks of the Thames in their numbers from Norfolk. Three times Fulham profited from attacks down the right.

In the 17th minute Sascha Riether fed Pajtim Kasami and the Swiss international did well to dig out a cross from the byline past Javier Garrido.

Ashkan Dejagah's dummy prevented Sebastien Bassong from clearing and Darren Bent was on hand to sweep home. It was his fifth goal of the season having scored in the original tie.

Four minutes before half-time and the lead was doubled. Bent's header found Giorgos Karagounis, who played in Alex Kacaniklic. He passed square and Dejagah lashed a finish into the roof of the net.

Hughton acted at half-time by replacing Redmond with record signing Ricky Van Wolfswinkel and changed formation to 4-4-2.

But Fulham dispelled any suggestion of a turnaround in the 68th minute. Kasami passed to Riether, once more on the right, and Sidwell met his cross with a thumping header.

Fulham (4-2-3-1): Stekelenburg 7; Riether 7, Hangeland 7, Burn 8, Richardson 6; Sidwell 7 (Christensen 84min), Karagounis 7; Dejagah 7, Kasami 7, Kacaniklic 8; Bent 7 (Dembele 79).
Subs not used: Stockdale, Hughes, Rodallega, Dempsey, Tankovic.

Booked: Karagounis

Goals: Bent 16, Dejagah 41, Sidwell 68

Norwich (4-5-1): Bunn 5; Whittaker 6, Martin 5, Bassong 6, Garrido 5; Redmond 6 (Van Wolfswinkel 46, 6), Snodgrass 6, Fox 5, Johnson 5, J Murphy 6; Elmander 6 (Becchio 68, 5).
Subs not used: Ruddy, Fer, Hoolahan, R Bennett, J Murphy

Referee: Lee Mason 7

Attendance: 11,172

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