Wycombe Wanderers, narrowly beaten by Liverpool in last season's FA Cup semi-final, injected some more Bucks Fizz into the competition with a sparkling and spirited performance at Adams Park. The highest crowd in in the short history of the smart little stadium (9,921), saw Fulham grateful to force a replay next Tuesday after Steve Marlet, a striker signed for the sort of money the Second Division side can only dream of, headed an equaliser three minutes from time.
Wycombe were well worth a second shot, and, after playing so well at Filbert Street and Villa Park last spring, need feel little apprehension about visiting Craven Cottage. Put in arrears by Sylvain Legwinski's goal immediately after half-time, they were carried to the brink of another upset by the pace and opportunism of the splendidly named Jermaine McSporran, who won a penalty for Steve Brown's equaliser and then drove his team in front.
"The performance was excellent," said the Wycombe manager Lawrie Sanchez, who continues to enhance his reputation as one of the brightest young coaches in the country. "We stopped them passing the ball in the middle of the field and made them resort to playing English-style football. I am just a bit downbeat at the moment, because usually you only get one bite at a Premiership side."
Maik Taylor's uncertainty in the Fulham goal as he renewed acquaintances with his defenders offered the home side as much encouragement as anything in a dull first half. The goalkeeper was fortunate that his hasty kick against the onrushing McSporran bounced wide of a post and that McSporran and then Andy Rammell (twice) failed to direct headers on target.
Fulham had plenty of possession, while illustrating why they have been so short of goals six in nine games until last night and are desperate to sign another striker. Louis Saha, so prolific at a lower level last season, headed carelessly wide after Andy Melville flicked on a corner and, in the Premiership team's neatest move, the French striker headed down for his compatriot Marlet, whose shot like so much else was wayward.
Equally typical was Saha's ridiculously casual free-kick, which allowed McSporran to use his pace for another break that came to nothing.
After this unenterprising fare, the second 45 minutes was a treat, the tie coming belatedly to life with a goal to each side in the first 11 minutes. Two French midfielders conjured up Fulham's Malbranque found Legwinski with a diagonal pass to the right-hand side of the penalty area, and although the first shot was athletically blocked on the line by Mark Rogers, the rebound fell kindly for Legwinski to score.
Ten minutes later McSporran's speed had positive results at last, carrying him away from Alain Goma, whose unwise challenge brought him down. Taylor got a strong hand on the penalty without managing to deny Steve Brown, the midfielder who missed last season's semi-final after a booking for taking his shirt off to celebrate the winning goal at Leicester.
It was far too cold last night for similar exhibitionism (no longer punished by a yellow card) but there were equally wild celebrations in the 66th minute as Wycombe went ahead. Taylor, not for the first time, failed to make a clean punch under pressure from a team-mate, and McSporran controlled the ball before driving in a fine shot on the turn.
Fulham, their passing less smooth than normal, were forced to resort to a more direct game towards the end, which paid off.
Barry Hayles, sent on as a third striker in place of the veteran midfielder John Collins, was close to an equaliser, shooting wide of the far post with eight minutes to play, before crossing for Marlet to head in after Mark Taylor failed to claim the ball. The goalkeeper redeemed himself in stoppage time, just managing to divert Sean Davis' fierce drive over the bar.
Wycombe Wanderers (4-4-2): Mark Taylor; Senda, Rogers, McCarthy (Cousins, 69), Vinnicombe; Currie (Carroll, 73), Bulman, Simpson, Brown; McSporran, Rammell (Ryan, 47). Substitutes not used: Osborn, Roberts.
Fulham (4-1-3-2): Maik Taylor; Finnan, Melville, Goma, Brevett; Knight (Davies, 68), Legwinski, Malbranque, Collins (Hayles, 68); Saha, Marlet. Substitutes not used: Van der Sar (gk), Harley, Stolcers.
Referee: G Barber (Tring).Reuse content