The Fulham manager Roy Hodgson wore the look of a man who had walked away unscathed from an accident, and well he might. His Premier League team were not so much lucky to survive this enthralling, classic FA Cup tie, but fortunate to escape a hiding after being outplayed for long periods by their Championship hosts at the Liberty Stadium.
That they owed their goal to an unfortunate defensive error by the Swansea City captain, the luckless Garry Monk diverting the ball past his own keeper Dorus de Vries shortly before the interval, was typical of a contest that supplied a thrilling sense of justice when the Trinidad and Tobago striker Jason Scotland equalised with a splendid goal seven minutes after the break.
But Swansea's delightful football could still grace the quarter-finals if they succeed in repeating their fourth-round triumph at Portsmouth by beating the London side at Craven Cottage on 24 February. For all neutrals here that would be seen as a richly deserved reward for thequality of their performances in the competition this season.
That, as Hodgson acknowledged to his credit, may yet be achieved since his team, so solid at home but without an away win in the Premier League this season, expect another thorough test of their technical and tactical talents in the replay. "It won't be easy," he said. "It will be just as difficult again. They showed us why they are on the verge of the play-offs and why they are here in the fifth round of the FA Cup. They knocked out the holders Portsmouth and they are a very good team with some very good players. I think it will be just as tough in the replay and I don't expect them to play any differently. We had a lot of players away on international duty in midweek and it showed."
While Hodgson took his team's humbling with dignity, his Swansea counterpart Roberto Martinez lamented missed opportunities and his team's best chance to have swept through to the last eight for the first time since 1964 as they extended their unbeaten run to 16 games.
"We have to be realistic about this now," he said. "I am proud of my players for expressing themselves, being themselves and playing as they did. It is very different to go to Craven Cottage, which is a fortress for them this season. We will try our best, but it will be very tough. We know that Fulham got away with it today so I have mixed feelings. We have learned a lot. We had a lot of possession and we played very well, but we had enough of the game to win and we didn't win. They were no threat to us and we gave them their goal, but it will be different I know in the replay."
Swansea's approach to the tie was spot-on. Martinez, using two wingers in an adventurous 4-3-3 formation to stretch Fulham's defence, had his team set-up expertly and they made the jaded visitors look very ordinary in the opening half.
Swansea's left winger Mark Gower cut in and played a one-two off the outstanding Scotland before hitting the post after four minutes and forced an outstanding reflex save by Mark Schwarzer from just five yards as Fulham rode their luck. Swansea's tidy passing and fluid movement gave them total domination, but they and the crowd were stunned when Paul Konchesky's in-swinging corner from the right somehow cannoned off Monk and into his own net in the 44th minute. One surge by Michael Johnson apart, it was Fulham's first effort on goal.
Gower, whose movement was praised by Martinez, continued his flowing running in the second half and went close with another shotbefore finding Scotland with a diagonal pass into the area in the 52nd minute. The striker received and turned beyond Aaron Hughes in one movement, switching the ball to his left foot in the process, and then drove an accurate left-foot shot beyond Schwarzer for his 12th goal in 12 games.
It was a sumptuous goal, but not enough to inspire Swansea to go on and claim victory as Fulham, ably marshalled by Brede Hangeland, held on grittily for a replay they could barely claim they deserved.
Referee: Howard Webb
Man of the match: Britton
Match rating: 8/10Reuse content