Not enough of a draw for live television coverage? ITV and Setanta should hang their heads in shame. This match was the essence of the FA Cup. Until Fulham scored twice in the last three minutes the odds were on Kettering, who had twice equalised through Craig Westcarr, becoming the first non-League club to knock Premier League opposition out of the competition. In the end the Blue Square Premier club could not bridge the 92-place differential, but Fulham will not face a more difficult tie if they ride their luck all the way to Wembley.
"I'm sure the television people will be wishing they had screened it now," said Mark Cooper, Kettering's manager. "It was a fantastic cup tie, what the FA Cup is all about. It is not Man United-Tottenham, Cardiff-Arsenal, it is about non-League teams playing on their own patch against Premier League teams."
It was the classic setting. The cameras which did turn up were on a temporary gantry in front of the Sid Chapman Terrace, Radio 5 Live were on plastic garden chairs at the back of the main stand and the national press, laptops on their laps, were dotted among the home support. All it needed was a cluster of fans hanging in the trees rising behind the away end. Fulham had not been to Rockingham Road since losing here in the Southern League in 1903.
Kettering's status has not changed much but they had knocked out 13 League teams in FA Cup ties, most recently Port Vale and Lincoln City this season. This was not so surprising. Conference clubs are no longer a collection of butchers, accountants and firemen, they are mostly all full-time with a smattering of former League pros. Kettering's included Nicky Eaden, who played in the Premier League for Barnsley, Lee Harper, who kept goal once for Arsenal, but more than a hundred times for QPR, and Westcarr, who represented England Under-21s when at Nottingham Forest. On the bench was a man who knew miracles could happen in the Cup, Alfie Potter, who put Havant & Waterlooville ahead at Anfield a year ago.
Alongside him was Terry Cooper, a serial winner of medals with Don Revie's Leeds United, who had flown in from Tenerife to advise his son, Mark. Cooper also knew shocks happen – he was part of the Leeds side famously defeated at Colchester in 1971.
Fulham had only rested John Pantsil, Bobby Zamora and Danny Murphy and, after a tentative first few minutes, they began to dominate. This soon brought reward as Simon Davies swivelled to volley in Clint Dempsey's 12th-minute right-wing cross.
It was a quality goal and Fulham briefly threatened to kill the tie with Leon Andreasen going close and Harper denying Dempsey. Then Kettering lifted their game. Ten minutes before the break Westcarr, having been tripped as he dribbled towards the box, drove the free-kick in.
Kettering maintained their momentum. Gareth Seddon and John Dempster should have scored before the cavalry, in the shape of Murphy and Zamora, arrived. Zamora headed a sitter wide from Murphy's cross but Exodus Geohaghan inadvertently deflected Murphy's 77th-minute shot into his own net.
Game over? Not yet. With seven minutes left Brede Hangeland cut down Westcarr who converted the penalty himself. A replay loomed but Harper chased Davies's deep cross and Zamora headed back for Andrew Johnson to score. Zamora added a flattering fourth but it was the Poppies who deserved the standing ovation at the end.
"I'm proud but sick," said Cooper. "We deserved to win. The players are gutted but I said to them, 'be proud of yourselves'."
Referee: Mike Riley
Man of the match: Westcarr
Match rating: 9/10