Martinez confident after Swans fly

Swansea City 1 Fulham 1
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The Independent Online

Roberto Martinez was three years old when Roy Hodgson, England's most itinerant manager, was winning his first league title as a coach, with Halmstads in Sweden, in the summer of 1976. As the current Fulham manager, 62 this year, laid the foundations of a career that has earned him respect across Europe, the dark-eyed Catalan kid soaked up rays from the dazzle of Johan Cruyff's impact at a resurgent FC Barcelona.

Hodgson, a solid scholar, absorbed his lessons as he travelled through Scandinavia, Switzerland and Italy, creating teams that were stronger than the sum of their parts, while Cruyff, under Rinus Michels, spread the gospel of "Total Football" having delivered, in 1974, Barça's first league title since 1960.

Three decades and a modest English-club playing career later, and while Barcelona under Pepe Guardiola remain eminent in Europe, Martinez, a contemporary and close friend of Cruyff's son Jordi and one of Wigan Athletic's original "three amigos", has emerged as one of the brightest coaches in the land. As Hodgson re-glossed his reputation by guiding Fulham from the clutches of relegation to mid-table safety in the Premier League, Martinez led Swansea to promotion to England's second tier after a 24-year absence.

No wonder then that in their first meeting as rival managers on Saturday Martinez and Hodgson delivered a contest of such excellence that most neutrals felt privileged to be there. Swansea's football, a sumptuous fusion of movement, awareness and fine technique, was an irresistible force that met an almost immovable object in Fulham's well-drilled defence.

It was a cup tie of classic emotional dimensions and football purity. Nobody could conclude that Swansea, rising in the Championship and now unbeaten in 16 games, were from an inferior league. They were superb to watch, if a trifle blunt in front of goal.

Chances were created with patient, precise movements across the full width of the field, but wasted: three fell to left-winger Mark Gower, who was foiled once by a post and twice by Mark Schwarzer's reflexes. Fulham, by contrast, lacked possession, but shored up their defences to steal a replay at Craven Cottage tomorrow week. Indeed, they sniffed a win when Garry Monk's own goal, off a thigh, put them ahead.

But justice was delivered, in part at least, with Jason Scotland's glorious equaliser. Collecting from Gower, the Trinidad & Tobago striker rolled away from Aaron Hughes in one fluent move before drilling a diagonal left-foot shot beyond Schwarzer.

Martinez, as dapper as his team, was disappointed. "It's going to be very different in the replay," he said. "We have to be realistic. They are formidable at home..." Hodgson, relieved to survive, praised Swansea's quality. "They showed why they are unbeaten for so long," he said.

Of his young opponent, he added: "He's done a wonderful job here. The way they play is the right way and I'm pretty sure that his star, which is in the ascendancy, will stay there; possibly even rise. It's a great achievement for them to be in the fifth round – and to have beaten Portsmouth and come so close to beating us. But he's got a long way to go..."

Given Martinez's cerebral approach, Swansea will arrive at Craven Cottage well prepared for their task, which is to reach the last eight for the first time since 1964. "My players have confidence now," he said. "We will try our best." Fulham beware. Neutrals buy a ticket.

Goals: Monk og (44) 0-1; Scotland (52) 1-1.

Swansea (4-3-3): De Vries; Rangel, Williams, Monk, Tate; Gomez, Britton, Allen (Bauza, 81); Dyer, Scotland, Gower (Orlandi, 71). Substitutes not used: Cornell, Tudur-Jones, Bessone, Serran, Butler.

Fulham (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Stoor, Hangeland, Hughes, Konchesky; Davies, Dacourt (Dempsey, 60) Murphy, Gera; Nevland (Zamora, 75), Johnson (Gray, 85). Substitutes not used: Zuberbuhler (gk), Pantsil, Milsom, Kallio.

Referee: H Webb (South Yorkshire).

Booked: Swansea Williams; Fulham Dacourt.

Man of the match: Britton.

Attendance: 16,573.

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