Sunday 24 September 2017

Hodgson joy as classy Fulham continue their thrilling hunt for silverware

Matt Hughes

FOR a man who made no secret at the start of this season of his plan to make survival in the Premier League his priority to the detriment of attractions elsewhere, Roy Hodgson is doing awfully well in the cups.

Fulham were already looking forward to welcoming Shakhtar Donetsk to London in the Europa League last 32 on Thursday and can now add an FA Cup quarter-final against Spurs or Bolton next month to their packed diary. With the prosaic goal of Premier League existence all but secured, this could turn out to be a season of glorious diversion after all.

The financial necessity of staging both semi-finals at England's national stadium means that Fulham are 90 minutes away from their first visit to Wembley since the 1975 FA Cup final defeat by West Ham United, although they have squandered similar opportunities before. In last season's sixth round, they were thrashed 4-0 at home by Manchester United, but recovered to beat the eventual champions in the Premier League a fortnight later, demonstrating they are not always overawed by big occasions.

"I thought we'd suffer more from tiredness," Hodgson said. "The question at the start of the season was, 'Did we have the experience and the squad to fight on so many fronts?' That was a very valid question and I didn't know the answer, so I've been more than satisfied.

"It would mean a lot to us to get to Wembley. It would be a major step forward in the progression we're trying to make at this club. Come the quarter-final we'll be highly motivated."

This was a classic cup-tie victory, which was somewhat flattering -- Dave Kevan, the Notts County manager, noted -- but bodes well for Fulham's future adventures. In the first half at least, the visiting team competed bravely to give their 4,000 travelling fans reasons to believe, but somehow they were 2-0 down.

Fulham's only obvious superiority to a side 65 places below them lay in the quality of their finishing. Danny Murphy created the first out of nothing in the 22nd minute, catching the County defence by surprise with an outrageous lob from halfway to Simon Davies.

The former Spurs midfield player controlled neatly before beating Kasper Schmeichel at his far post.

Fulham's second 19 minutes later was even more exquisite, as Nicky Shorey chipped the ball from the left to David Elm, whose first-time flick was chested down by Bobby Zamora and unleashed past Schmeichel on the volley for his 13th goal this season.

Fulham extended their finishing lesson in the second half, with Damien Duff and Stefano Okaka, a substitute, finding the net six minutes apart, the latter scoring his first goal for the club since sealing his loan deal from Roma. (© The Times, London)

Irish Independent

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