They lunged, they blocked and they conquered. Bolton Wanderers' destructive gameplan will not win them many prizes for aesthetic merit but it took them into the FA Cup quarter-finals, with a little bit of help from lenient referee Stuart Attwell.
In fairness to Bolton, they have a new-found flexibility in their play under Owen Coyle, which ensures they pass prettily on the break. But this victory was all about toughness, stopping the opposition from playing and breaking up the flow of the game. It was admirably defiant defending, by fair means or foul.
Ultimately Ivan Klasnic's 19th-minute goal made the difference. It was the Croatian's second FA Cup match-winning goal in four days, a commendable feat considering his off-field difficulties with rape allegations, which have been dropped.
"We knew that there was nothing to them," said Bolton manager Coyle. "It's been a hard time for his family. I'm delighted he scored. He's a natural goal-scorer."
Once that went in, Bolton succeeded in aggravating Fulham, throwing the home side out of their stride. Early in the second half, Martin Petrov had even provoked Chris Baird into slapping him in the face when angry words were exchanged following the Bolton midfielder's subtle hit on the Northern Irishman. Good job for both players that Attwell noticed neither the initial incident nor Baird's raised hand.
Emotions had already been simmering long before then, though. Shortly before half-time, Fulham's frustrations were unleashed on the touchline when Mousa Dembélé had his shirt pulled by David Wheater. When it was not spotted, Fulham manager Mark Hughes and his coaching staff went, frankly, ballistic.
"Disappointment is over-flowing," said Hughes. "There were decisions that I did not understand, but it's dangerous to talk about referees so I'm not going to go down that route."
Long balls and flick-ons had been the favoured method of attack for both sides in the early stages on a bobbly surface. When Bolton finally showed some of the neat passing that their attackers are capable of, they opened the scoring. Chung-Yong Lee and Klasnic exchanged passes alertly. The ball eventually found its way out to Fabrice Muamba and his diagonal cross from the right was only partially cleared by Brede Hangeland. The loose ball fell to Klasnic, who drove in from 15 yards.
Hughes's men worked hard to carve out openings, but the more that Fulham tried to play football, the more hard-nosed Bolton became.
Fulham wasted little time in trying to take the game to Bolton in the second half, pressing high up the field. Dembélé charged forward impressively twice, but on both occasions, his shooting let him down. Bolton were soon up to their usual tricks though, Muamba scything down Dembélé, prompting Attwell to finally show a yellow card.
In a rare moment of calm, Baird supplied Steve Sidwell, on the edge of the 18-yard area in the 55th minute, but the midfielder's low shot went wide. But it was not long before tempers were lost again with the fall-out between Baird and Petrov, culminating in both being booked.
The Fulham fans' irritation was quelled by the return of Bobby Zamora from injury as he came on as a 67th-minute substitute. They were nearly silenced again when Petrov came close for Bolton as Mark Schwarzer was forced into a save. Fulham also had chances late on; Dembélé mis-hit a shot, Clint Dempsey headed high and Zamora also hoisted an attempt over as Coyle's men held firm to ensure a visit to Birmingham in the last eight.
Subs: Fulham Zamora 6 (Gera, 67). Unused Stockdale (gk), Kelly, Pantsil, Etuhu, Greening, Kamara. Bolton Elmander (Klasnic, 79). Unused Jaaskelainen (gk), Taylor, Cohen, Moreno, Blake. Booked: Fulham Baird. Bolton Robinson, Muamba, Holden, Petrov.
Man of the match Muamba Match rating 6/10. Possession Fulham 51% Bolton 49%.
Attempts on target Fulham 7 Bolton 3.
Ref S Attwell (Warwickshire). Att 19,571.Reuse content