Marlet lifts Fulham to follow class of '75

West Bromwich Albion 0 Fulham 1
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The Independent Online

Steve Marlet's sojourn beside the Thames has been soured by injury since Jean Tigana splashed Fulham's highest-ever fee of £11.5m to lure him from Lyon last summer. So the goal which settled last night's hectic FA Cup sixth-round tie at the Hawthorns – and West London's French enclave a semi-final date with its Italian equivalent – was as sweet for the striker as it was significant for his club.

Fulham thus reached the last four for the first time since the class of '75, which included Bobby Moore and Alan Mullery, reached Wembley as members of the old Second Division.

West Bromwich, whose more historically minded devotees harboured hopes of their repeating the triumph of 71 years ago, when they became the only club to win the Cup and gain promotion, were left to dwell on what might have been.

Gary Megson's men certainly had their moments, before and after the goal. Daniele Dichio, as befits a Hammersmith boy with his roots at Queen's Park Rangers, was a constant threat to Fulham, but in the semi-final analysis, Albion's best was never quite good enough.

Marlet, who is a full international but was trailing Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet and company in the pecking order for a World Cup place even before his time on the treatment table, struck at the start of the second half in a tie long on atmosphere yet short on finesse.

His opportunism ended a run of four defeats for Fulham and left Albion free to concentrate on following them into the Premiership, which they will almost certainly have to attempt via the play-offs. For the First Division's third-placed team it was a taste of their own medicine: they have won 13 games by the same score this season.

The first half was mediocre, passes repeatedly going astray. None of which mattered a jot to an expectant crowd so starved of big occasions in cup competitions that they even leapt to their feet in raucous appreciation when Albion's Darren Moore, ushered the ball behind for a goal-kick.

As the Premiership side – even though this is the first season they have ever been in a higher division than Albion – Fulham might have been expected to rise above the frenzy. The few flashes of class did come from John Collins and Steed Malbranque. Not for the first time, though, they seemed content with possession without penetration. They also lacked width, making it relatively easy for Moore and his cohorts to crowd them out.

Albion had two opportunities before Fulham forced Russell Hoult to break sweat. From a ninth-minute corner by Neil Clement, Dichio powered in a header which Collins headed off the line.

Dichio soon sent Scott Dobie scampering clear, only for him to roll the ball to Edwin Van der Sar as if executing a backpass. Megson, whose touchline antics make Martin O'Neill appear placid, led the mass placing of head in hands.

Fulham finally tested Hoult seven minutes before half-time. Luis Boa Morte's cross found Louis Saha near the penalty spot, but the Albion keeper kept out the Frenchman's first-time shot with his legs.

There was no such respite 100 seconds after the break. Collins, on Fulham's left, swung a free-kick in to the near post, Marlet rising unchallenged to prevent Hoult overtaking Albion's record of 22 clean sheets for a season with a goal Megson described as "pathetic" from a defensive standpoint.

Albion responded gamely. Bob Taylor's 20-yard drive brought a sprawling save from Van der Sar shortly after he came on as a third striker, and the substitute also pursued a through ball before being thwarted by the superior pace of Rufus Brevett.

Larus Sigurdsson, with a header straight into Van der Sar's hands, and Dichio, volleying over from a difficult angle, ensured that the decibel level remained high. At the other end, Saha gave Hoult another chance to prove his prowess, but no one could detract from Marlet's glory.

Goal: Marlet (47) 0-1.

West Bromwich Albion (3-5-2): Hoult; Sigurdsson, Moore, Gilchrist; Balis, A Chambers (B Taylor, 54), McInnes, Johnson, Clement; Dichio, Dobie (Fox, 82). Substitutes not used: Butler, Jordao, Adamson (gk).

Fulham (4-4-2): Van der Sar; Finnan, Melville, Goma, Brevett; Legwinski, Malbranque (Goldbaek, 85), Collins, Boa Morte (Ouaddou, 72); Marlet, Saha (Hayles, 85). Substitutes not used: Harley, M Taylor (gk).

Referee: N Barry (Roxby, Lincs).

Man of the match: Malbranque.

Attendance: 24,811.