Christmas came late for the players of Leyton Orient but when they finally held their party last night the League Two side had even more reason to celebrate. Martin Ling, the manager, had asked his team to delay their festivities because of the busy holiday programme and as they pulled their crackers at an Italian restaurant in Loughton, Essex, they did so as the first players to knock Premiership opponents out of the FA Cup this season.
No wonder Barry Hearn, the sporting impresario who has been the club's chairman for the last 10 years, promised to pay the bill.
Orient, who are chasing promotion from League Two, were worthy winners of this third-round tie. Cheered on by nearly 6,000 of their own supporters, Ling's men out-ran, outfought and at times outplayed their supposed superiors.
Fulham, who no doubt have individual players on more than Orient's total weekly wage bill of £20,000, were woeful and were accused by Chris Coleman, their manager, of "arrogance" and a "lack of effort and enthusiasm".
Ling prides himself on his team's good footballing principles. The game's outstanding midfielder was Craig Easton, a 26-year-old Scot who suffered the disappointment of three semi-final defeats to Celtic while playing for Dundee United, while Jabo Ibehre was always a handful for the Fulham defence and Shane Tudor provided a threat down the right. John Mackie, the captain, and Gabriel Zakuani, a 19-year-old from Congo, were outstanding in central defence and Glyn Garner was an agile and dominating goalkeeper.
Having scored twice in the first half, Orient weathered a brief Fulham storm after the interval to reach the FA Cup's last 32 for the first time in four years. "It's the most exciting day in my nine and a half years at the club," Ling, a former Orient player, said afterwards. "I think we edged it on the pitch over the 90 minutes and our supporters certainly edged it off it."
Ling said he would leave the players to party on their own and would travel home by public transport after going to a pub "for a couple of beers" with his wife and children. His mood, understandably, contrasted with that of Coleman, who refused to blame the injuries which kept out the likes of Brian McBride, Steed Malbranque and Carlos Bocanegra.
"That had nothing to do with us losing because our back-up players should still be good enough to do better than that," he said. "Eighty per cent of my players had a bad attitude."
The match provided a nightmare debut for Fulham's midfield recruit from Columbus Crew, Simon Elliott, who played a key part in both of Orient's goals. After 16 minutes, Fulham failed to clear Joe Keith's cross from the left and Easton drove the loose ball past Tony Warner from 15 yards via a deflection off Elliott's boot.
Less than half an hour later, the New Zealander tamely gave the ball away and Orient scored after a slick passing move. Justin Miller and Gary Alexander made progress down the right before Easton slipped the ball to Keith, who was left in a space as wide as the Fulham Palace Road. The midfielder kept his head down and struck a fierce left-foot shot which flew into the roof of the net after another deflection, off Liam Rosenior's boot.
If there was going to be one Rosenior in today's fourth-round draw few would have expected it to be his father, Leroy, whose Torquay United team forced a replay against Birmingham City.
Although Tomasz Radzinski had an effort ruled out for offside and Sylvain Legwinski's driven cross hit the bar, Fulham contributed little to a first half dominated by the away side. When Collins John scored four minutes into the second half, holding off Zakuani to shoot into the bottom corner after Radzinski's throughball, it seemed that the Premiership side had stirred themselves into action in time to save the day.
After 68 minutes, however, Garner dived to his left to keep out a penalty by John after Zakuani had fouled Luis Boa Morte. Orient drew renewed inspiration and Fulham only seriously threatened again when Garner had to push Legwinski's lob over the bar.
"I saved five penalties last year and I felt really confident I would save that one," Garner said. "I had nothing to lose. A goalkeeper never does."
Ling stressed the importance of his players now concentrating on their primary target of promotion. Players had been fined £10 for mentioning the "F" word ("Fulham," he explained) before last Thursday and he said the best aspect of this victory would be the subsequent boost to the club's finances.
"I'll now be able to bring in a couple of players to strengthen the squad," he said. "In 28 months I haven't spent a transfer fee. I don't even know how to make a bid for a player."
Goals: Easton (17) 0-1; Keith (44) 0-2; John pen (50) 1-2.
Fulham (4-4-2): Warner; Rosenior, Knight, Pearce (Goma, 84), N Jensen; Elrich (Timlin, 62), Elliott, Legwinski, Boa Morte; John, Radzinski. Substitutes not used: Drobny (gk), Rehman, Milsom.
Leyton Orient (4-4-2): Garner; Miller, Zakuani, Mackie, Lockwood; Tudor (McMahon, 71), Easton, Simpson, Keith (Carlisle, 84); Ibehre, Alexander (Barnard, 90). Substitutes not used: Morris (gk), Barnard, Saah.
Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).
Bookings: Fulham Pearce; Leyton Orient Tudor.
Man of the match: Mackie.
Attendance: 13,394.Reuse content