County are caught out by Zamora
Fulham 4 Notts County 0
Don't be fooled. Bar the last 20 minutes, this scoreline, if not the result, flattered Fulham. However, the upshot is that there is no team from the bottom division of the Football League in the FA Cup quarter-finals, something that may have bruised the hearts of football romantics on Valentine's Day.
Still, Notts County left Craven Cottage with their dignity intact, no mean feat given the turmoil that has surrounded the club since last summer. They face the High Court – an even tougher opponent than Fulham – a week on Wednesday over an unpaid tax bill.
Sven Goran Eriksson ended his seven-month affair with County last week and the Swede left with his dignity also intact, if not his wallet, having promised not to pursue what he claims is £2.5m in compensation owed to him. He is, of course, rich enough not to need even that amount of money.
He told caretaker manager Dave Kevan that Fulham could be beaten, which perhaps proves he has spent too much time away from the top flight of English football. It is nice the former England manager is still in touch with Kevan and he is promised a warm reception when he next returns to the black-and-white half of Nottinghamshire. But given Eriksson prefers the warmer climes of Portugal and Italy, that reunion almost certainly won't occur on Wednesday, when County, who occupy the last play-off place in League Two, renew their push for promotion by hosting Grimsby Town.
If Kevan keeps his team where they are, the national stadium, and the play-offs in May, may yet be their destiny. Yet it was the home support, not the impressively vocal 4,500 visiting fans, who were singing "we're going to Wembley" after Bobby Zamora's goal gave Fulham their second goal and an advantage they were never likely to squander. Of course, that song doesn't quite have the ring it used to, given the semi-finals are played at the new stadium, but reaching the last four would still be quite an achievement for Roy Hodgson's men.
Yet the Fulham manager admitted his players would be suffering from Wembley nerves in their quarter-final, where they have managed to avoid Chelsea, but will still have a tough assignment at home against either Tottenham or Bolton. Hodgson said: "It would mean a lot to us. It would be a major step forward in the progression at this club. Come the quarter- final we will be motivated and will badly want the result."
Hodgson had paid County a lot of respect with the team he picked, including Damien Duff and Zamora. At Craven Cottage on Thursday, Fulham will face a daunting opponent in the last 32 of the Europa League – they host Shakhtar Donetsk, the winners of last season's Uefa Cup – so Hodgson must sense this competition represents as good a chance as any for his side to enjoy some success this season.
Not that Fulham started off like a team capable of reaching its first Cup final since 1975. Kevan's side, featuring the experience of Lee Hughes in attack and Jamie Clapham, once of Birmingham and Ipswich, in midfield, stifled their hosts for the first 20 minutes, and even managed the first serious shot on goal. After 17 minutes, Ben Davies tried his luck from 25 yards, forcing Mark Schwarzer to tip over. Davies was a constant threat and Kevan rightly thought his players' efforts deserved to see County leave London with at least one goal.
But after 22 minutes, it was Davies's namesake, Simon, who put Fulham ahead. Danny Murphy passed over the top and the Wales winger steered his shot low past Kaspar Schmeichel. Four minutes before the interval, the hosts were able to relax; David Elm flicked a pass to Zamora and the forward notched his 13th goal of the season.
The second half was more routine for Fulham, despite Ben Davies's best efforts for County. Zamora found Duff and the Irish winger beat Schmeichel at his near post. As the game wore on, County began to unravel, allowing Stefano Okaka, the loan signing from Roma, to beat his marker and pick his spot for his first goal for the club.
Fulham (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Baird, A Hughes, Hangeland, Shorey; Duff (Riise, 75), Etuhu, Murphy (Greening, 70), S Davies; Zamora (Okaka, 75), Elm. Substitutes not used: Zuberbuhler (gk), Nevland, Stoor, Smalling.
Notts County (4-1-4-1): Schmeichel; Thompson, Edwards, Hunt, Jackson; Clapham (Rodgers, 62); Westcarr (Hawley, 85), Ravenhill, Bishop, B Davies; L Hughes (Hamshaw, 85). Substitutes not used: Hoult (gk), Lee, Fairclough, Akinbiyi.
Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).
Man of the Match: Zamora.
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