It was not straightforward but Fulham’s successful navigation of this difficult FA Cup tie against Sunderland was further proof of their growth under Marco Silva. He will almost certainly not win it, but given Fulham were widely tipped for another doomed-to-fail relegation battle by many in the summer, the Portuguese at least deserves consideration for the manager of the year shortlist.
Fulham are a likeable club but they are not one of the glamorous ones and tend to operate under the radar. It is how they like it and Silva’s best work has come at clubs of a similar stature – Estoril in Portugal and Watford in England. There is much to enjoy about this Fulham side. Silva had already guided the club to arguably their most stylish promotion from the Championship and has led them to eighth in the Premier League, with a decent chance of snatching a European qualification place.
This victory over Sunderland sets up a home tie against Leeds United in the fifth round. Given the Yorkshire club’s relegation concerns, Fulham will be favourites to progress. Silva rotated and rested here with nine changes, but will surely play his strongest side in the next round. “We are happy to be through, but we want more,” said Silva, who was serving a touchline ban and watched from the stands. “We are trying to build a winning mentality. An away tie in the FA Cup against a side like this is never going to be easy, but we were the better side on the night and deserved the win.”
This was not a comfortable night. Fulham had to dig in and fight, rather than simply outplay their Championship opponents. Either side of half-time, Sunderland were the better side, but they were already behind after Harry Wilson’s early strike, his first in 11 months, and had to take risks at the back.
— Emirates FA Cup (@EmiratesFACup) February 8, 2023
Fulham’s second came against the run of play, from half-time substitute Andreas Pereira, but with still half an hour left to play. If they thought Sunderland’s fight had been beaten out of them, they were wrong and a brilliant curling shot from Jack Clarke set up a rousing final 10 minutes.
Even when Layvin Kurzawa scored a third late on, Sunderland came back again and scored another fine goal through exciting youngster, the Costa Rican Jewison Bennette. Fulham edged it, but this was more cause for optimism for the home side, whose young side are mounting a push for the play offs in the Championship after four painful years in League One.
The loss of their leading goalscorer Ross Stewart for the rest of the season is a big blow and his replacement, Joe Gelhardt, on loan from Leeds, was Cup-tied. But even with Manchester United youngster, Amad Diallo, who has revived a flagging career on loan on Wearside, as a makeshift centre-forward, they scored two goals against a Premier League team.
At full time, Sunderland’s players looked distraught and several had to be picked up from the grass. They were not keen to take the positives from a narrow Cup defeat, but there were plenty of them. For the first time in years, there is a feelgood factor at Sunderland. With a crop of young players who have their best years ahead of them, and led by a wise old manager in Tony Mowbray, there could be a lot more to come.
“There are going to be some dips along the way, but I’m trying to lose the narrative that we are a young team,” said Mowbray. “If you are good enough, you are old enough and they are good enough. We don’t look for excuses, I think this team is exciting. We are on a journey to get this club back to where it should be and I hope the fans are enjoying watching us play.”