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Fulham class tells - The Times

last updated Monday 11th March 2002, 9:00 AM
Fulham playmaker Steed Malbranque
Fulham playmaker Steed Malbranque sets up Steve Marlet for Fulham's winning goal
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West Bromwich 0 (0) Fulham 1 (0)
Fulham prevailed with the class of a FA Barclaycard Premiership side when the reality of the present dawned at The Hawthorns last night, casting aside the icons of the past that had played such a significant part in the preparations for this FA Cup quarter-final encounter.

If it had been a long haul for the ladies on Mothering Sunday having to endure saturation coverage of the three ties, it was a far from easy ride for neutrals as West Bromwich Albion failed to reach their twentieth semi-final in the last of the matches played yesterday.

The scoreline of 1-0 against the Albion bucked the trend for the home side, who have won 14 times this season by that margin. However, it succinctly reflected what was a fast and furious but ultimately disjointed contest. It is fair to say that it was not a classic that ushered Fulham a step closer to what would be only their second Cup Final appearance. Only Chelsea, who were drawn against them in the semi-final draw last night, stand in their way.

Ticket touts should be able to report brisk trade along the King’s Road in the weeks before April 14.

The last time Fulham went one stage better in the competition was when the London side were led out at Wembley Stadium by Bobby Moore, although his presence could not prevent West Ham United from securing a 2-0 victory.

This encounter with West Bromwich reprised the roles of that day — an aspiring side from the old second division against top-flight opponents — and the result last night was similarly deserved by virtue of Fulham having the more accomplished players.

“We may never get a better chance to get to a Cup Final than this,” John Collins, the Fulham midfield player, said. “We knew they would be a danger and they really came at us, so we are delighted to get through.”

The victory was a triumph for Steve Marlet, the £11.5 million summer signing from Lyons who is still striving to vindicate that club-record investment. His seventh goal of the season is certain to silence some of his detractors, if only temporarily. His last three have been scored in cup competition. Fittingly, his chance was created by Steed Malbranque, his compatriot and by some distance the most influential player amid the midfield maelstrom that is endemic in these cup games.

Malbranque’s Gallic guile led pockets of resistance as Albion attempted to lay siege to the Fulham defence, either down the right flank, since Neil Clement was almost utterly redundant on the left, or in the air, where Daniele Dichio’s imposing figure loomed at every set-piece.

Match Stats WBA Fulham
Goal attempts 11 9
On Target 8 5
Hit woodwork 0 0
Fouls 16 10
Offsides 2 4
Corners 8 9
Yellows 0 0
Reds 0 0
source: www.sports.com
Ironically, it was the deftest of touches at a dead-ball situation, a cleverly flighted free kick from the left by Malbranque less than two mintues after the interval, that secured a sixth-round passage. It was an invitation to score and one that Marlet accepted gratefully, stooping low to head beyond Russell Hoult. A record-breaking 23rd clean sheet of the season must await the West Bromwich goalkeeper.

“We have been working on that free kick in training,” Collins said. “It was a great cross and a terrific header.”

Two minutes later Louis Saha hoisted a splendid opportunity into the Smethwick End, where his supporters were awaiting to acclaim a second goal. It was a glaring piece of profligacy almost befitting Marlet at his worst.

West Bromwich had their moments. The best of them was when Dichio saw his header cleared off the line by Collins early on after the home supporters had been galvanised into partisan spirits by the broadcast of a recording describing Jeff Astle’s 1968 Cup Final winner for Albion, their fifth Final success in ten appearances. The England centre forward, whose death in January was mourned by the Black Country club, would have been proud of the response last night although Gary Megson, the West Bromwich manager, will doubtless settle for a visit to the Millennium Stadium in the Nationwide League first division play-off final in May.

“The manner in which we lost it was pathetic,” Megson said. “We can’t say we deserved to win but we have matched a very good and expensive Fulham side.”

The hard work will begin for Megson if he gains promotion with a squad devoid of quality and depth.

WEST BROMWICH ALBION (3-5-2): R Hoult 6 — L Sigurdsson 6, D Moore 4, P Gilchrist 5 — I Balis 6, A Chambers 5 (sub: R Taylor, 54 7), D McInnes 6, A Johnson 5, N Clement 3 — S Dobie 5 (sub: R Fox, 82), D Dichio 6. Substitutes not used: C Adamson, T Butler, Jordao.

FULHAM (4-1-3-2): E van der Sar 5 — S Finnan 6, A Melville 6, A Goma 7, R Brevett 6 — J Collins 6 — S Legwinski 5, S Malbranque 8 (sub: B Goldbaek, 86), L Boa Morte 6 (sub: A Ouaddou 72) — S Marlet 6, L Saha 3 (sub: B Hayles, 86). Substitutes not used: M Taylor, J Harley.

Referee: N Barry 6.
Source The Times by David McVay
Since 1998
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