Even after their Europa League trauma, Fulham could still have the thrill of a cup run this season. They started their FA Cup campaign with an authoritative, if slightly flattering, victory. Clint Dempsey scored a hat-trick, and Damien Duff the fourth, in a game that demonstrated a serious commitment to the competition.
"I wasn't here for the last four or five years so I still thought the FA Cup was the best competition in the world," Fulham's manager, Martin Jol, said afterwards. "I told the players that and maybe they think differently, but I don't think so."
Fulham had to work hard to beat a very competent Charlton side, who missed chances to make it 1-1 early in the second half. "You've got to be clinical, that's the difference between our level and their level," said Charlton's manager, Chris Powell. "But I'm proud of a team that have created chances at a Premier League ground. On another day it might have gone for us."
Both managers played their strongest possible sides. Jol made one change from the team which beat Arsenal five days before as Kerim Frei replaced Steve Sidwell. The system was admirably adventurous: Danny Murphy in midfield, Bobby Zamora up front,and four creators in between the two.
Fulham asserted their quality from the outset against their League One guests and a comfortable victory looked likely when, after eight minutes, Dempsey put Fulham ahead. Murphy tried to play a through-ball from midfield. There was a deflection, Dempsey reacted first and tapped in. But as the game developed Charlton began to match Fulham. Increasingly organised and diligent, they made Fulham work with the ball and challenged them on the break. The Frenchman Yann Kermorgant forced David Stockdale to dive to his right to keep out his curling shot.
Charlton started the second half just as well, attacking with more freedom. Eleven minutes after the restart they had their best chance: the artful Kermorgant slipped through Bradley Wright-Phillips – with a pass Powell described as a "sublime piece of skill" – but Wright-Phillips shot straight at Stockdale. Five minutes later the miss was punished.
Dempsey surged from midfield, crafting himself space before exchanging passes with Bryan Ruiz and clipping the ball over the goalkeeper John Sullivan for his second. At 2-0 the chances flowed: Ruiz headed wide, Zamora had a shot blocked, Philippe Senderos nodded over. With fitness telling, 10 minutes from time Dempsey had his third. Ruiz, increasingly influential, dribbled into the penalty area and was brought down by Sullivan. Phil Dowd was kind enough not to send the keeper off, but Dempsey was less generous, hammering the ball in for his hat-trick.
The score, unfair on Charlton, became more so. Three minutes from time Zamora won the ball from Cedric Evina and set up Duff, whose shot was deflected just inside the near post.
Fulham (4-1-4-1): Stockdale; Kelly, Senderos, Hangeland, Riise; Murphy (Sidwell, 81); Ruiz, Dembélé (Kasami, 85), Dempsey, Frei (Duff, 59); Zamora.
Charlton (4-4-2): Sullivan; Solly, Taylor, Morrison, Wiggins (Evina, 72); Green (Wagstaff, 72), Pritchard, Hollands (Hughes, 85), Jackson; Wright-Phillips, Kermorgant.
Referee Phil Dowd.
Man of the match Dempsey (Fulham).
Match rating 6/10.
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