Fulham 1 Sunderland 3
FA Cup fourth round replay @Craven Cottage
Words and images by Mike Holdsworth
After rolling up at circa half time for matches at Fulham and Chelsea in recent years thanks to the unpredictable West London traffic and no chance of local parking, Tuesday night’s FA Cup scouting mission needed a plan!
Parking near Hammersmith Apollo and a 30 minute walk down Fulham Palace Road did the trick. I was amazed to find the entrance to the Riverside Stand (which is literally on the Thames) was gained by crossing the away end concourse and fans were happy mingling together before the match. It reminded me of a time (30+ years ago) when away fans had to enter the Midland Road half of the Kop from Burlington Terrace and walk through all of the City fans on that side … not pretty, and mingling was not the word!
But that was another era and Fulham is like neighbours Brentford and QPR, all nice and friendly. I love the ground, especially the old fashioned Pavilion in the corner where the players come out. Good start and all for £15 adult and £5 junior, even better.
It was great to forget about ticketgate and tellygate and neutral footie watching is just fun, but I made sure to be near the away fans for some atmosphere! Nice and friendly can mean soporific. Fulham were not a team of star names, but I was keen to see the strike force of Rodallega and £11 million man Ross McCormack – always wondered why he was so expensive. Nahki Wells £1.25m, we were robbed etc, but in truth McCormack looked a captain who led by example, more of an all rounder, gets the goals and anyway, you can barely get two decent terrace houses for £11 million in the filthier rich parts of Fulham.
I was hoping Gabor Kiraly, reserve goalie, he of the grey track suit bottoms much seen on Match of the Day many years ago, might get a run-out, but no. As for Sunderland – disappointed that Adam Johnson and Seb Larsson were absent but long may that continue, and their starting eleven and bench were full of household names (but then I do sit in the higher reaches of Fantasy Premier League!)
First point of note: the pitch was very green. A bit wet but in immaculate condition and genuinely great to see. It was grim up North when I left 19 years ago, but no excuses and stop quoting Derby circa 1974 please… pitch covers, turf consultants, underground heating, money, whatever, we need to sort it.
Second point of note: the Sunderland fans are very loud. This could be as important as the pitch in round five. They were superb, simply the best, always behind the team even when behind, loud, proud, there in numbers, good songs; their backing a theme throughout, and they will not be outsung at Valley Parade.
The match was entertaining for the neutral, without too many clear chances on goal. Sunderland started fast, passed very sharply. Steve Fletcher went close, although I thought he and Defoe were not great threat overall (a poor man’s Drogba and Remy, perhaps). Left back Van Aanholt looked a future star and with the talented Ricky Alvarez on the right, Sunderland dominated the first 20 minutes, without being too creative.
After a scrappy Rodallega goal against the run of play from a corner on 28 minutes, Fulham dragged themselves back into the game, but created little else. Fulham 1-0 at half time was a good place for City, I felt. Fulham were not very good, frustrated their fans and created little else. Where the Premier League players impressed was playing themselves out of tight situations without giving the ball away – the pitch helped.
But there was something missing from the Sunderland first half effort … real passion I thought, last seen in West London on 24 January perhaps!
The second half started with Sunderland pushing forward again, Alvarez always to the fore. On 56 minutes a strange thing happened. All of the Fulham fans around me stood up and got excited. I’m still not sure why, but it was a rare moment. The Sunderland fans continued to impress. Having travelled 280 miles, 1-0 down, mediocre opposition, on a cold Tuesday night, ‘sing your hearts out for the lads’ they sang.
It took calamitous goalkeeping to bring them level, but they deserved it, the fans a little more than the team, perhaps. There was a bit of spin on it, but your grannie could have caught the ball which Bettinelli managed to push over his own line. I can remember Steve Smith dropping a corner over his own line in a 3-0 defeat to Tranmere many years ago, but nothing else as bad! (Note – I’ve not seen every City keeper since then.)
Alvarez was an entertainer, always looking to attack and run and my man of the match. But he was very left footed playing on the right wing and too often when he cut in, his efforts were blocked, yet he was still Sunderland’s biggest threat. He deserved to score the decisive goal on 75 minutes with a powerful run and shot. He will keep James Meredith busy if he plays at Valley Parade.
Mannone was solid in the Sunderland goal. The fans seemed to love him and he had his own song, repeated throughout. “Oh Vito Mannone” to the tune of “Oh Rory McArdle”. All he was doing was catching the odd corner … the thing is, as we know, some names just scan really well. The boss had his own song too, but they had to sing “Goostavo” to make it work and I can’t remember why. It will ring out on 15 February!
By this time “Que Sera … Wembley … etc” got an airing. Memories of ’73 etc. Hopefully they won’t require that one at Valley Parade.
There was to be no Fulham rally. The highlight of the last 15 minutes was a bout of handbags, perhaps in time to be known otherwise by the FA as ‘failing to keep your players under control’. But there was no ‘Parky like’ dart down the touchline from either manager, so perhaps not.
A soft penalty in injury time sealed it for Sunderland. So don’t worry. We can do it. Emirates round six, then two visits to Wembley. Sunderland weren’t that good, they didn’t need to be – but their fans were absolutely brilliant!