Watford's real hopes of gaining a third Premiership scalp of the season come next week in the second leg of the league cup semi-final when they host Liverpool. Last night, despite their undeniable exertions, was not so important. It was for Fulham, however. An indifferent league season could not also give way to an early FA Cup exit.
In the end they won comfortably enough, without extending themselves or the crowd, and with the economy of creating two chances from open play and scoring two goals.
Fulham had the comfort of scoring early. On 13 minutes Moritz Volz, overlapping, ran on to Papa Bouba Diop's sharp pass and drove the ball low, across the stand-in goalkeeper Alec Chamberlain, and into the net. It was the first goal the German had scored for the club he joined 18 months ago.
Watford almost struck back immediately when Danny Webber, making his first start since dislocating his shoulder three months ago, drew an alert save from Edwin van der Sar.
Webber was one of the changes made by manager Ray Lewington. Indeed, to turn recent cup protocol on its head, it was the non-Premiership side resting players. Fulham, apart from the injured Steed Malbranque, were at full strength. Watford, playing their eighth match in 25 days, shuffled. With next week's tie, they had bigger concerns on their mind than the FA Cup third round.
Lewington had intended to start Webber alongside Heidar Helguson, but dropped him back into midfield to match Fulham's formation. But although Watford pressed, the opportunities fell to the home side. From a free-kick on the angle of the area, Luis Boa Morte struck a curling left-foot shot narrowly over while Tomasz Radzinski lifted the ball beyond Chamberlain - now 40 and usually the goalkeeping coach these days - but also wide.
After the break, Webber stabbed at a cross from Hameur Bouazza before Dominic Blizzard badly miscued from outside the area. The impetus, admirably, was being seized by the visitors. If this competition was a mere distraction, they were making a decent fist of not letting that show.
Almost immediately, however, there was the second goal. Andy Cole sent a pass to Radzinski who sidefooted calmly past Chamberlain. Lewington responded with a triple substitution.
The goal deflated the game although Van der Sar had to punch away Neal Ardley's free-kick. In winning, Fulham will now meet Derby County. In losing Watford merely followed Liverpool out of this cup. For those two the contest that matters follows.
Fulham (4-2-3-1): Van der Sar; Volz, Rehman, Knight, Bocanegra; Diop, Legwinski; Radzinski, Clark (Pembridge, 63), Boa Morte (John 84); Cole (McBride 72). Substitutes not used: Crossley (gk), Rosenior.
Watford (4-4-2): Chamberlain; Chambers, Cox, Demerit, Darlington; Devlin (Gunnarsson 68), Mahon, Blizzard (Dyer, 68), Bouazza (Ardley, 68); Webber, Helguson. Substitutes not used: Doyley, Young.
Referee: A D'Urso (Essex).