KEVIN KEEGAN will be watching the stands as keenly as the pitch when his Fulham side host Southampton in their FA Cup third-round replay a week on Wednesday. "I need to believe there's a football club at Craven Cottage," Keegan said after Saturday's draw. "What we are doing there is a waste of time otherwise," he added, saying if there were less than a capacity 19,000 at the replay he might start wondering whether he has a future at the helm of Mohamed Al Fayed's grand project.
"When I joined Fulham, everyone said it was a big club that needed reviving," Keegan said. "It was certainly a big club in the 1960s but I think it has lost two generations of fans. They're not going to come to Fulham if they can watch Gianfranco Zola at Chelsea. My ambition this year is to see the ground full. It's no good us creating something if the backing isn't there for it to support itself and I stick by that."
For the manager of a Second Division club - albeit the leading team - to feel so entitled to success would be slightly ridiculous were it not for the resources at his disposal.
Al Fayed's money, however, has enabled Keegan to build a squad (costing some pounds 8m) that will most likely be playing in the First Division next season. With Saturday's opponents (costing around pounds 5m) currently looking likely to be joining them, Keegan's ambitions do not look so far-fetched. "We've learned that we're not that far away [from being a top-level side] in terms of players," Keegan said.
"In Chris Coleman, who we signed from Blackburn, we've got the best player outside the Premiership by a million miles, and I watch a lot of games. Now we're at home in the replay and I wouldn't want to bet on either of us as it will be a tight game again, but we can certainly win it."
Fulham have already knocked Southampton out of the Worthington Cup this season and on Saturday's evidence they are quite capable of repeating the feat. After taking a ninth-minute lead through Steve Hayward and defending it until two minutes into second-half extra-time - when Egil Ostenstad scrambled an equaliser after a defensive slip-up - they looked like achieving it at the first attempt. The home side felt they had been the victims of an injustice when Ken Monkou was sent off after 70 minutes for a foul on Rufus Brevett.
"I don't think there's a person in the ground who thought it merited a red card," Dave Jones, the Southampton manager, said. "It was a bad tackle that deserved a yellow card but it was clear that Ken went for the ball."
Jones could have no genuine argument that the final result was unfair. With Matt Le Tissier injured, the Saints had no player capable of effectively holding play and were reliant on the long ball and sporadic forays down the wing by Hassan Kachloul.
The introduction of Mark Hughes midway through the second half added a measure of determination but was not enough to galvanise the Saints into anything like the side they need to be if they are to avoid relegation.
"It's a big relief were still in the competition," Jones said. "Hopefully we will have the players [Le Tissier, Stuart Ripley] back for the replay who will create more problems than we did at home. It's going to be difficult, we have to go there and be at our best."
Keegan, presumably, will be hoping that there will be a full house to watch them try.
Goals: Hayward (0-1) 9; Ostenstad (1-1) 90.
Southampton (4-4-2): Jones; Colleter, Lundekvam (Monk, 25), Monkou, Hiley; Kachloul, Palmer, Oakley (Hughes, 66), Dodd; Ostenstad, Beattie. Substitutes not used: Stensgaard, Bridge, Basham.
Fulham (3-5-2): Taylor; Finnan, Nielson, Brevett; Symons, Bracewell (Collins, 66), Coleman, Hayward, Smith; Horsfield (Trollope, 89), Hayles (Lehmann, 75). Substitutes not used: Uhlenbeek, Arendse.
Referee: D Gallagher.
Sending off: Southampton: Monkou. Bookings: Southampton: Palmer. Fulham: Hayward, Symons, Horsfield.
Man of the match: Kachloul.
Attendance: 12,549.Reuse content