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Sheff Utd 1-1 Fulham FAC 4th Rnd 1314 Daily Telegraph

last updated Monday 27th January 2014, 12:35 PM
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Mark Ogden at Daily Telegraph

Sheff Utd (1) 1 Fulham (0) 1

It was the kind of missed chance that made Sandra Redknapp famous, with Darren Bent rediscovering the inaccuracy from two yards that has dogged his career just when he could have given Fulham a fortuitous place in the FA Cup fifth round.

Two yards out and with the goal at his mercy four minutes from full-time, Bent skewed his shot high and wide to evoke memories of the howler which signalled the end of his Tottenham career when Harry Redknapp suggested his "missus could do better".

As a result of Bent's miss, and a similar wasted opportunity by Philippe Senderos, Fulham must prepare for a replay on Tuesday week after failing to overcome Nigel Clough's League One outfit in a pulsating tie.

The fact that United, languishing fourth from bottom of the third tier, were still able to hold Fulham after being reduced to 10 men following the 53rd-minute dismissal of captain Michael Doyle emphasised the paucity of the Premier League team's performance.

"Looking at the second half, we should be able to put the game away after the red card," Fulham manager Rene Meulensteen said. "But maybe we have been lucky because they had a penalty that could have been given. Then again, Darren should have scored. He has made his life on taking chances like that.

"That's where those type of players turn up. He is disappointed, but he hasn't said anything. He knows."

Meulensteen's admission that the home side were unfortunate not to be handed a penalty after 71 minutes, following Aaron Hughes's foul on Ryan Flynn, was echoed by Clough, who erupted on the touchline following Andre Marriner's refusal to award a spot-kick.

Clough and Marriner exchanged words on the touchline following the incident and the United manager insisted that the Premier League official had failed his team.

"I asked Ryan Flynn if there was sufficient contact for the penalty and he said there was," Clough said. "So work that one out.

"Andre is one of the nicest guys you will meet, but some of his decisions today were not the greatest. He just asked me to calm everyone down [when we spoke on the touchline]. It wasn't a criticism to me as the manager. He said calm it down, irrespective of the decisions I'm making.

"I said just get one right every now and then and it might calm everyone down! It was aimed at everyone on the bench, not me as an individual."

While that penalty decision may have gone against the home team, Fulham also had their claims, with Marriner twice rejecting strong appeals from the visitors.

But aside from those incidents, both teams played out a gripping cup-tie in difficult conditions in a half-full stadium.

After incessant rain fell in Sheffield overnight, Marriner was forced to undertake two pitch inspections before passing the sodden surface fit just an hour before kick-off.

Fulham, facing a crucial Premier League fixture at Swansea City on Tuesday evening, would perhaps have favoured a postponement to avoid fatigue compromising their chances of a positive result at the Liberty Stadium.

With fourth-round weekend devoid of anything approaching a giant-killing, however, Fulham began the game aware that this tie was the romantics' last hope of an upset, with Sheffield facing a battle to avoid playing in the basement division for the first time in almost 35 years.

So Fulham, half-strength or not, were vulnerable to an ignominious defeat and after starting brightly, when youngster Chris David was denied by goalkeeper George Long inside six minutes, they found themselves being outfought and outplayed by Clough's team.

Sheffield deservedly opened the scoring on 31 minutes when Chris Porter netted at the near post following a cross by Harry Maguire.

Fulham should have been handed the chance to equalise four minutes later when Rodallega appeared to have been brought down in the penalty area by Long, but Marriner played on.

Luck was against Meulensteen's team. On one break forward, Pajtim Kasami's cross looked set to tee up a scoring chance until the ball stopped dead in the mud inside the six-yard box.

Having won just one of their last nine away games, Fulham were doing little to improve that sorry sequence and United continued to assert pressure by starting the second half with a series of attacks.

Jose Baxter forced an important save from David Stockdale after 49 minutes with a 20-yard strike and Flynn was denied by the goalkeeper's legs following a low shot after a run into the penalty area.

By that stage, however, the home side had been reduced to 10 men as a result of Doyle's dismissal for kicking out at Muamer Tankovic.

The red card gave Fulham a route back into the game, but they took their time to navigate themselves to safety. Kasami attempted to win another penalty by going to ground in the six-yard box and Marriner once again ignored the appeals before going on to reject United's claim following Hughes's challenge on Flynn.

But having survived the penalty scare, Fulham finally took advantage of their extra man when Hugo Rodallega scored from 20 yards after 75 minutes to equalise.

It was harsh on United, but with Senderos and Bent missing open goals in the final stages - Senderos also hit the crossbar - they at least secured a second shot at an upset next week.

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