The Little Aeroplane was flying high again at Craven Cottage as Fulham pushed comfortably into the fifth round of the FA Cup against a Stoke City side brimming with commitment but woefully short of ideas. Vincenzo Montella, the Italian on loan from Roma, nicknamed for his arms outstretched scoring celebrations, netted for the fourth time in the last three games. He was at the heart of Fulham's two other goals and came off, with an hour played, to a standing ovation.
His manager, Chris Coleman, reckons Montella is still short of match fitness but in this rough and tumble he stood out for his calmness and astute football. Sadly for Fulham, says Coleman, Montella will be flying away at the end of the season: "I am not going to pretend we are going to sign him," said Coleman. "He has a long and lucrative contract with Roma, he just came here because he wants to prove himself in the Premiership."
That Montella calm was evident when Fulham scored their first in the 11th minute. The experienced Michael Duberry's toe-end averted calamity, if only briefly, by spoiling what looked like a formal tap-in for Brian McBride when a slip by Andy Griffin let Liam Rosenior run right in on goal. The corner was never properly cleared and Wayne Routledge had time for a measured cross which Tomasz Radzinski failed to bundle in at the far post. In the goalmouth frenzy, Radzinski recovered possession to slide the ball across the face of goal for Montella to tuck away.
In a Fulham-dominated opening half, the second goal, which came six minutes from the interval, had Montella at its hub. Franck Queudrue, biding his time on the left touchline until a gap appeared in the Stoke marking, chipped the ball inside to the Italian, whose instant through ball left McBride the simple job of tucking his shot past Steve Simonsen.
The third, early in the second half, also had the Italian at its heart. Fatally for Stoke, he was allowed to make his way to the edge of their penalty area at leisure to slip a short ball to Moritz Volz, who dinked Radzinski clear for a left-footed shot on the turn to make it 3-0.
Despite fielding a solid core of men with previous Premiership experience, as well as Belgian and Jamaican internationals in Carl Hoefkens and Ricardo Fuller, Stoke never got to grips with their task. As their manager, Tony Pulis, conceded: "We were hoping to come here and put on a show but after that early goal we were always on the back foot."
Despite an unbeaten run now stretching to 10 League and cup matches, albeit including seven draws, the amount of Fulham supporters was disappointingly low, though Stoke's exuberant, and eventually over-exuberant, followers pumped up the decibel level. At three goals down in the second half, a phalanx threatened a pitch invasion behind one of the goals but were repelled by police and stewards.
Stoke were better in that second half. Lee Martin, shooting smartly, startled the Fulham goalkeeper Jan Lastuvka into a knock-down save and, when he was brought on with a quarter of an hour left, Adam Rooney twice forced the on-loan Lastuvka into brave blocking stops, That said, it should have been four for Fulham when a Duberry backheader fell short and was seized on by Radzinski, only for Steve Simonsen to turn the volley aside for a corner.Reuse content