MOHAMED AL FAYED had cause for a double celebration last night when, after his High Court libel case ended in his favour, his expensively assembled Fulham team triumphed at Kenilworth Road. Two goals from Barry Hayles during a purple patch for Fulham early in the second half, when they scored three times in six minutes, snuffed out Luton's hopes just as those of Neil Hamilton had been destroyed only a few hours earlier.
The reward for Fulham is a plum FA Cup fourth-round tie against their London rivals Wimbledon next month. It will not be an easy trip up the District Line for Egil Olsen's team.
Paul Bracewell, the Fulham manager who knows all about the travails of the FA Cup, having been to Wembley for the final four times without coming away with a winner's medal, had cause for concern with his side's uncertain early play.
Fulham's best early opening came when Hayles broke free after the referee, Graham Frankland, ignored a linesman's flag for offside, but his run was ended by a tackle from Julian Watts. This was a warning to Luton of Fulham's potential and others followed from a Simon Morgan header and a Geoff Horsfield strike wide of the post.
A dull first period was enlivened after 28 minutes when the referee wrongly booked Hayles, much to the mirth of the crowd, who could see that Wayne Collins made a late challenge on Paul McLaren.
Hayles had the last laugh though as Fulham won in the opening quarter of the second period when they found a gear they had not hinted at possessing in the first half. He capitalised on chances arising from mistakes in Luton's youthful midfield and killed off the Bedfordshire side.
The first came after 57 minutes when a misplaced ball by Stuart Fraser was collected by Steve Hayward. He sent Lee Clark away on the left for a cross which was met at the far post by the unmarked Hayles, who finished comfortably.
The second followed three minutes later. This time McLaren was the Luton culprit. Clark intercepted his pass and quickly found Hayles, who burst clear and scored. As if these double blows were not enough, Luton suffered a third after 63 minutes when Hayward stroked a free-kick around a poor Luton wall and into the bottom corner.
Manager Bracewell said afterwards that Hayles had shaken off flu shortly before the game and added that he may have been inspired by a message of encouragement that arrived from Mohammed Al Fayed. Bracewell said: "We put Hayles in a room on his own to see how he was and he pulled through. He never looked like making it earlier, but by half past six he was raring to go."
Luton Town (3-5-2): Abbey; Fraser (Boyce,60), Watts, Doherty; Johnson, George, Locke, Douglas, Spring; McLaren, Taylor. Substitutes not used: Scarlett, Kandol, Ayres, Tate (gk).
Fulham (3-5-2): Taylor; Finnan, Brevett, Melville (Trollope, 78); Morgan, Simons, Collins, Clark, Hayward; Horsfield, Hayles. Substitutes not used: Uhlenbeek, Peschisolido, Selly, Hahnemann (gk).
Referee: G Frankland (Middlesbrough).