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Fulham superior class - S. Telegraph

last updated Sunday 17th February 2002, 12:53 PM
Walsall (0) 1 Fulham (1) 2
Fulham made sure that there was no more giant-killing for Walsall on Saturday, but plenty of echoes of the massive Amsterdam Arena at their modest Bescot Stadium. They came in the form of a duel between Fulham's Holland goalkeeper, Edwin van der Sar, and Walsall's substitute striker, Darren Byfield, best friend of Darius Vassell, who scored a spectacular goal for England against the same man a few days earlier.

Byfield, having equalised scrappily for the First Division side, looked to have matched the quality of his former Aston Villa colleague's strike with a powerful header near the end. But Vander Sar threw his 6ft 7in frame into an athletic leap to claw the ball away and finally snuff out Walsall's chances of forcing a replay against opponents whose superior class always gave them the edge in this unremarkable fifth-round tie.

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"I thought it was in," Byfield said afterwards. "I think Van der Sar got to it with his fingertips only because he's so tall, but he is a world-class goalkeeper, after all. My header wasn't quite as spectacular as Darius's volley, but at least I can say I scored against Van der Sar faster than he did. If the header had gone in, I think we could have gone on and won it."

That would have been less than Fulham deserved. Playing the controlled possession football that has marked their exceptional progress under French manager Jean Tigana, they squeezed a lot of the passion out of the tie, hard as Walsall tried to sustain it. Having taken the lead shortly before half-time through an own goal by Walsall captain Tom Bennett, they rode the shock of Byfield's equaliser before winning the game with a fine goal by Barry Hayles.

"The FA Cup is a difficult competition to win because there's always so much passion around the games," said Tigana after watching his Premiership side claim a place in the sixth round for the first time since they finished runners-up to West Ham in 1975. "My priority is to stay at the top level: the fans want to see Manchester United, Chelsea, etc, next season. But the FA Cup is not a distraction. That's why I put my first team out today."

While Tigana dreams of getting into Europe by winning the FA Cup or finishing high enough in the Premiership, Walsall manager Colin Lee is left with a fight against relegation and a medical problem to sort out. Lee was furious that it took so long to put a few stitches in the ankle of Darren Wrack - the right-back was still off the pitch when Fulham scored their winner.

"It was really disappointing," he said. "Darren was off the field for 10 minutes 25 seconds, and they scored 25 seconds before he came back onto the pitch. I didn't want to take him off because he was playing so well, and for that to happen in a game like this is hard to swallow. To take so long to put a few stitches in an ankle is obviously something I have to look into."

Match Stats Walsall Fulham
Goal attempts 9 5
On Target 5 2
Hit woodwork 0 0
Fouls 14 8
Offsides 3 6
Corners 6 3
Yellows 3 1
Reds 0 0
source: www.sports.com
Both sides had chances to take the lead before Fulham eventually did so. Only the excellent anticipation of Walsall goalkeeper James Walker stopped Sylvain Legwinski putting away Steve Marlet's subtle through-pass after 11 minutes; but the home side might have scored twice themselves before the interval, Brazilian striker Herivelto slicing Van der Sar's poor clearance wide and his Portuguese partner, Jorge Leitao, heading an inviting centre from Byfield, who had come on for Herivelto, into the goalkeeper's hands.

Fulham got their first goal from a free-kick on the right awarded for a foul on Hayles by Matt Carbon. Steed Malbranque, Fulham's outstanding player yet again, took the kick and whipped a dipping shot wickedly into a crowded goalmouth and Bennett seemed to get the last touch.

Walsall's equaliser, four minutes into the second half, was just as messy. This time it was an inswinging corner, taken on the right by Dean Keates, that caused the problems. With players backing into him, even someone as tall as Van der Sar could not deal with the danger. Trying to punch the ball clear, the goalkeeper succeeded only in punching it against Byfield, then watched helplessly as the rebound bounced back into the net.

At the other end, Malbranque twice threatened to score as Fulham changed into a higher gear. The French midfielder shot over the crossbar from Hayles' clever flicked pass then nearly surprised Walker with a free-kick aimed at a spot just under the bar. There was a lovely, flowing quality, too, about Hayles' decisive goal after 61 minutes. An intelligent run by right-back Steve Finnan enabled him to send over a cross that Hayles volleyed sweetly past Taylor on the turn.

But Walsall would have matched Fulham in more ways than one had Van der Sar not made his crucial save four minutes from the end. The danger came from the left, Pedro Matias, one of two Spaniards in this multi-national West Midlands team, picking out Byfield with a perfectly flighted centre. The striker met it perfectly with his head, but Van der Sar was just too big a giant to be felled on this occasion.

Walsall: Walker, Wrack, Holdsworth, Carbon (Roper 45), Aranalde, Bennett (Corica 76), Keates, Biancalani, Matias, Leitao, Herivelto (Byfield 37).

Subs Not Used: Harper, Angell.

Booked: Carbon, Matias, Byfield.

Goals: Byfield 49.

Fulham: Van der Sar, Finnan, Ouaddou (Melville 81), Goma, Brevett, Malbranque, Legwinski, Collins (Harley 90), Davis, Marlet (Saha 80), Hayles.

Subs Not Used: Taylor, Willock.

Booked: Brevett(77, foul).

Goals: Bennett 43 og, Hayles 61.

Att: 8,766 Ref: S Dunn (Bristol).
Source S. Telegraph by Colin Malam
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