James Ward-Prowse gives Southampton much-needed boost with FA Cup third-round victory over Fulham

Fulham 0 Southampton 1: It was a victory for pragmatism over aesthetics as Saints found a way past the attractive but ultimately blunt west London side

Ed Malyon
Craven Cottage
Saturday 06 January 2018 17:45
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It was a victory for pragmatism over aesthetics at Craven Cottage as Southampton snuck past Fulham 1-0 and into the fourth round of the FA Cup. But it was far from convincing for Saints or their under-pressure manager Mauricio Pellegrino, who was jeered by his own fans even in victory.

This was always destined to be one of the more evenly poised third-round ties and it lived up to such a billing. The hosts were a team in the Championship play-off hunt and the visitors a struggling Premier League outfit yet to really find their feet under Pellegrino.

Fulham have spent the last 18 months becoming a well-coached, naturally proactive team that like to stroke it about. They play passing, attractive football but they do sometimes have the feeling of being, well, a little too nice. There are moments when you just wish one of them would take the game by the scruff of the neck and force the issue but it isn’t in their nature. They are sculptors rather than soldiers – and on Saturday they got a lesson in the ruthlessness of the Premier League.

The Cottagers were the more impressive team throughout, having more of the ball and generally playing the game in a more attractive fashion. Unfortunately, the scoreboard doesn’t take that into account, and Saints were more efficient in the few chances they had and probably could have won by more in the end.

Sofiane Boufal, the south coast club’s record signing, is yet to shine consistently but he flashes brilliance and he could have had a goal or two today. Instead it was James Ward-Prowse whose close-range prod separated these sides, arriving from midfield to capitalise on some sloppiness in the Fulham defence just before half-time.

There was always hope that the hosts could come back into it, with Stefan Johansen and Lucas Piazon the chief creators in Tom Cairney’s absence, but Rui Fonte was a slender, unconvincing spearhead to the attack and you can see why coach Slavisa Jokanovic is so keen to sign a centre-forward. Whether the unwieldy task force above him that governs recruitment allow him to dip into the market is another question entirely.

Jokanovic deserves credit for how well he has Fulham playing but once they were behind, it suited Mauricio Pellegrino’s men down to the ground. The Argentine has built his reputation on solid teams that don’t concede and in Boufal and Shane Long he had speedy counter-attacking weapons that periodically stretched and dashed Fulham’s high line.

Pellegrino was jeered by Saints fans for taking off the impressive Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg on 80 minutes and Jokanovic took criticism from the stands for leaving out Cairney, the man who is usually the beating heart of this team.

But Southampton held on for victory and Fulham fall at the first hurdle.

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