A game to evoke memories - and not least of the last time these clubs met in the FA Cup. That was the 1975 final with Mooro, Bonzo, and the original Frank Lampard, of course. Five years later and West Ham were winners again, the last from outside the top flight.
They are back in the second tier now, but there are discernible signs that after their recent traumas it may indeed be a shortened sojourn. The Cup is no distraction. It is another game for the manager, Alan Pardew, to bring his fractured, remodelled squad together. "We have a nice little thing going at the moment," he said. The evidence supported him, and it could have been confirmed but for a poor refereeing decision seconds from time when Matthew Etherington, through on goal, was pulled up for a foul awarded to his side. Some advantage.
The cast list was not of that previous meeting. The quality was disappointing from a Fulham side who were, this time, undoubted favourites. The mantle rested uneasily. The season is starting to take its toll and their most talented performers, the outstanding Edwin van der Sar apart, did not compete. It's a worry for their manager, Chris Coleman. "Dead lucky," was his typically honest verdict. "There were no excuses. It was inept." His irritation was clear. His players were "too complacent" - drifting into a dangerous comfort zone. West Ham deserved to win. They created the five best chances, dominating midfield through a resurgent Michael Carrick and, crucially, showed desire.
Both sides were somewhat denuded. Fulham - playing their fifth game in 14 days - were drained by injury. West Ham - having assembled their third team in a year - were denied half-a-dozen players who were cup-tied. This state of affairs compounded Coleman's annoyance. "It wasn't even their strongest side," he spat.
But the replacements were eager, and one, Etherington, broke immediately from kick-off. His deep, clipped cross was met on the volley by Marlon Harewood, allowed alarming space 12 yards out. Van der Sar parried. The chance fired a burgeoning belief for the visitors, whose Cup pedigree is richer. Only once have Fulham gone beyond this round since that final 29 years ago - although that was just two seasons past, when they lost in the last four.
Both sides were intent on attack, with Fulham ditching their lone-striker formation. Swift breaks from Luis Boa Morte and Steed Malbranque were countered by the muscular drives of Brian Deane and Harewood although Carrick, sitting in central midfield, eased their way with his fluent passing which wrested control. In the directors' box sat England's coach, Sven Goran Eriksson. It proved to be too early in the rehabilitation of Carrick for an inter-national call-up, but he is approaching the form that merited inclusion in Eriksson's very first party. "He could not have done himself any harm," claimed Pardew. More probably the Swede was, this time, watching Fulham's Zat Knight, whom he has singled out, or Sean Davis. Or more probably still, on St Valentine's Day, Eriksson may not have felt the urge to trek to Manchester, and this was the noteworthy London fixture. Nancy would have appreciated that; or maybe insisted on it.
Despite their intent, West Ham suffered familiar weaknesses: Christian Dailly failed to clear and Carlos Bocanegro's half-struck shot glanced the far post. At the other end, Van der Sar again saved smartly, turning away Kevin Horlock's shot and Deane's thumping header. Two minutes after the break and another, even more appealing, chance fell to the striker. Once more it was the busy Etherington crossing, with Van der Sar only pushing the ball into Deane's feet. His shot was scooped wastefully over.
The tempo surged, the game expanded, play reaching from box to box. The real danger was coming from West Ham and their belief flourished. None more so than through Harewood. His trickery won a corner from which Dailly headed just wide and then, agonisingly, Carrick wasted the best chance of all. From Etherington's burst the ball was diverted out. Carrick had time, too much of it, and chose the wrong option. A low drive was, inevitably, saved by Van der Sar while, for Fulham, two late shots went close. Any closer and it would have been an injustice.Reuse content