Tom Cairney rescues FA Cup replay for Fulham in draw with Sunderland
This richly entertaining game was all the better for both teams taking the FA Cup seriously. It was frantic right up until Michael Salisbury blew for full time and, while Fulham will wonder how they failed to find a way past the outstanding Anthony Patterson during the dying stages, they will also know not to expect an easy night when they travel up to Sunderland for the replay.
Nobody needs to tell Fulham that Sunderland, who lie a point off a playoff spot in the Championship, are moving in the right direction. Marco Silva will not have to spend much time warning his players about Amad Diallo’s dribbling, Patrick Roberts’s creativity and Jack Clarke’s drive. Silva has seen for himself that Sunderland’s spirit is strong under Tony Mowbray, who has a team full of engaging and committed youngsters, and he will know that Fulham will not survive if they show the wrong attitude at the Stadium of Light.
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That feels unlikely, though. Fulham, seventh in the Premier League, could not be accused of a lack of commitment. They conceded too many chances after falling behind to a sloppy early goal, but stayed calm. Tom Cairney’s equaliser was hardly undeserved. Fulham finished with 22 shots on goal and, as Silva argued, more ruthlessness would have carried them into the fifth round.
“It was a typical cup match,” Fulham’s manager said. “The game was too broken for me to enjoy. When you concede a cheap goal, we needed quality to break their organisation. We created enough to score more. But we gave many moments to them.”
Silva, who hopes to add more depth by taking the Arsenal right-back Cédric Soares on loan and buying the Fluminense midfielder Andre, had no complaints about being taken to a replay. “We had the chance to win it in 90 minutes,” he said. “We didn’t.”
Fulham could not use Silva’s decision to make six changes from their defeat to Tottenham as an excuse for their slow start. The initial signs were positive. João Palhinha controlled midfield and Sunderland, whose starting lineup contained two players over the age of 22, seemed happy to sit back.
With six minutes on the clock, the ball found its way to Issa Diop. That was the trigger for Clarke. Sunderland’s left-winger knew to press Diop, whose distribution has never convinced, and it was too late by the time the Fulham centre-back tried to react; the ball had gone and Clarke was opening up his body to guide a smart finish beyond Marek Rodak.
With Sunderland’s travelling support making all the noise, Fulham looked stunned. They soon had a chance, Tosin Adarabioyo heading over, but they lacked intensity. Carlos Vinícius, deputising for Aleksandar Mitrovic up front, was poor.
At least Manor Solomon, who has just returned from a knee injury, offered a spark. This was the Israeli winger’s first start since joining on loan from Shakhtar Donetsk and his dribbling caught the eye, as did the moment when he kept a long ball from drifting out and crossed for Andreas Pereira to strike on the volley.
Fulham could not believe it when Dan Ballard cleared Pereira’s attempt off the line. Yet they had not played well. Diallo, on loan from Manchester United, was a constant threat in attack, although they could have done with the forward showing more composure.
Diallo’s profligacy was a worry for Sunderland, whose promotion hopes could be hit by their striker Ross Stewart suffering a suspected torn achilles during the first half. Abdoullah Ba was also wasteful at the start of the second half.
“The positive thing was the spirit of an extraordinarily young team,” Mowbray said. “There’s a bit of frustration we didn’t see the game out. But Fulham are a top team.”
Two excellent saves from Patterson denied Harry Wilson but Sunderland continued to counter, Diallo’s trickery inspiring them. It took two fine saves from Rodak to thwart the Ivorian, whose balance and unpredictability repeatedly unsettled Fulham.
Sunderland needed a second. Roberts went close and Silva urged Fulham to wake up. After an hour, Layvin Kurzawa attacked from left-back and found Cairney. Time stood still. Cairney took a touch, then another, then left a defender on the floor, and only when he was ready did the midfielder draw Fulham level by firing past Patterson.
The equaliser invigorated Fulham, who quickly introduced Willian and Mitrovic. The pressure grew and Patterson would make superb saves from Solomon, Bobby Decordova-Reid and Willian during a pulsating finale.
Sunderland did not settle for a draw. Pierre Ekwah, making his professional debut after coming on as a late substitute, had two attempts. Mowbray even threw on Chris Rigg and the 15-year-old soon had the ball in the net, only for the goal to be disallowed for offside. Sunderland will feel optimistic about the future.