Bolton stutter on as Hierro holds the line

Bolton Wanderers 1 - Fulham 0
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The Independent Football

Was there really a place in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup at stake here? At times, you would not have realised as much in a match watched by a crowd some 7,000 smaller than Bolton's worst in the Premier League this season. As a contest it was technically absorbing and had moments of excitement but rarely sparked the kind of passion that once was guaranteed in this competition.

Was there really a place in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup at stake here? At times, you would not have realised as much in a match watched by a crowd some 7,000 smaller than Bolton's worst in the Premier League this season. As a contest it was technically absorbing and had moments of excitement but rarely sparked the kind of passion that once was guaranteed in this competition.

Bolton won it by virtue of a 12th-minute goal from Kevin Davies to which they seldom looked like adding. Only in the closing minutes, when Fulham were throwing all men forward in a desperate quest for an equaliser, were spectators drawn to the edge of their seats. For the London side, who were by no means second best, it was a show of Cup spirit that came too late.

Sam Allardyce put the small turnout down to economics, suggesting that the high cost of season tickets has made Cup football a luxury for which spectators no longer want to pay extra.

Once, it was the other way around. A Cup game, with its all-or-nothing appeal, always had the edge over the "win some, lose some" nature of the League campaign. Nowadays, the financial importance of the Premier League seems even to have changed fans' priorities.

But Bolton's recovery in the League since the turn of the year - they have not lost a game in any competition in 2005 - has put them in a position to give the Cup its due attention.

"It was not a classic performance but a great result," Allardyce said. "But it puts us just two games from the final and if we are lucky with the draw..." Nevertheless, he left out a significant number of the players who have been influential in the Premiership.

The likes of Fernando Hierro, Vincent Candela and Khalilou Fadiga could hardly be said to lack pedigree but the absence of Stelios Giannakopoulos, El-Hadji Diouf and Ivan Campo caused some raised eyebrows.

Bolton's early goal was their best moment by some distance. Right-back Nicky Hunt drilled a long, low pass into the Fulham penalty area, Henrik Pedersen executed a neat lay-off and Davies, with more space than he would expect to be granted, was able to plant a shot accurately to the left of Edwin van der Sar for his eighth goal of the season.

Hierro, the former Real Madrid player making only his fifth start since his arrival in August, was outstanding in the sweeper role in Bolton's midfield, effectively protecting their back four and rarely wasting a pass, but the home side created few chances to extend their lead.

Fulham, for whom Andy Cole was typically threatening, had enough chances to at least win a replay. Bolton were given a real scare on the hour when only a fine save by Jussi Jaaskelainen kept out a goalbound shot from a difficult angle by Tomasz Radzinski. Then Papa Bouba Diop went close, teeing up a long-range volley that dipped late but over the bar.

An awful miss by Pedersen with 19 minutes left, the Dane responding to an open goal with a feeble shot that was easily blocked, could have been costly. But Bolton survived a late assault from Fulham, Davies and Anthony Barness both making goalline stops, to scramble into the last eight.

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