Fulham 3 Blues 1

Last updated : 21 March 2003 By Richard Barker
Only one player, in Robbie Savage, can come out of the game with any real credit following this appalling display and a scoreline that flattered Blues who could have been 6-0 down when Stern John hit an injury-time consolation on his return to the side.

Bruce was able to call on the services of Senegalese right back Ferdinand Coly for the first time. The World Cup star came in at right back, with Jeff Kenna moving into the centre to partner Joey Hutchinson in an injury plagued central defence. Martin Grainger came in at left back, whilst Darryl Powell replaced the suspended Aliou Cisse alongside Savage.

Blues started as if the players didn't really care about a Cup run - and proceeded to play like that for 90 minutes. It's just a pity they couldn't have told the 2500 - 3000 travelling fans that it might have been better to stop in and watch the EastEnders omnibus as oppose to boosting Fulham's home attendance to a paltry 9000 or so.

The home side went 1-0 after 11 minutes, when Coly lost the ball on the right. Steed Malbranque played the ball through to Facundo Sava, and the South American drove the ball low, and despite a considerable touch from Nico Vaesen, the ball still crept into the net. Que Sava's inexplicable and rather childish 'Mask Celebration'.

Blues did manage to have an attempt at goal soon after however. Referee Neale Barry continued the theme of refereeing incompetence that is blighting this season - not just for Blues, but across the country - and refused to see any advantage in Jovan Kirovski being one-on-one with Maik Taylor, opting instead to award a free-kick in Blues favour some 22 yards out. Up stepped Grainger, who hit a good effort low to Taylor's left, though Edwin Van Der Sar's understudy was equal to the task, and pushed the ball around the post.

Fulham doubled their advantage on 23 minutes through one-time Blues target Bjarne Goldbaek. Savage had done incredibly well to fight for the ball, and as the ball was cleared towards the middle of the pitch, Powell opted to wait for the ball, rather than move to it, and Goldbaek nipped in, took a couple of touches, and hit another low drive that Vaesen this time couldn't even get a touch to. It was more than poor from Powell, who, in what may have been his final Blues appearance, really should have done more to try and win a longer term contract.

At half time Bruce replaced the ineffective Kirovski and the quite simply disinterested and appalling Clinton Morrison with Craig Fagan and the fit-again Stern John. The new strike pairing suddenly had a lot more work on their hands to get Blues back into the game, however, as within a minute of the restart, it was 3-0. Sava played a ball to the edge of the area to Louis Saha, who was given time and room to turn and unleash a shot that Vaesen never saw, and to send Blues out of the Cup.

Fagan wasted a glorious opportunity to get Blues back into the game minutes later when he latched onto an under-hit backpass, but lacked the confidence to go for goal, and opted to turn back in field, and lost all momentum. Perhaps Morrison's striking instincts may have been preferred in such a situation, though I doubt very much that he'd have even bothered chasing down a backpass. Fagan again went close with a much better shot on the turn which Taylor held at the second attempt.

It was Fulham, however, who proceeded to create many more chances, and spurn them all. Sava blasted over when well-placed, Malbranque failed to convert a shot from Saha that was going wide, before Saha himself hit the post and Sean Davis somehow managed to hit the crossbar from a couple of yards out with an empty net at his mercy - much to his own embarassment.

Blues got an undeserved reward for Savage's efforts when, in injury-time, John controlled the ball against two defenders on the edge of the area, hit a well-struck left footed half volley that Taylor could only get a hand to, sending the ball looping up and into the net. In fairness, John had looked as if he hadn't really been away, which is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on which side of the Stern John fence you sit. Personally I think that in 45 minutes he offered more of a threat than Morrison has done in a month.

There's an old football cliche along the lines of 'well, at least we can concentrate on the league'. That's certainly true now, but at times, Robbie Savage, who worked harder than he ever has before, must have looked around him and despaired at the lacklustre displays of his team-mates. John and Fagan both showed flashes of half-decent football, but that was about it. As for Coly, he looked to want to much time on the ball at times early on, but should settle and do ok. Certainly in the second half he looked quite useful when going forward. Make no mistake though, if Blues play like this in a week's time, Arsenal could be looking forward to a cricket score. Well, an English cricket score.

Vaesen - May have done better with Sava's goal
Coly - Mixed debut
Grainger - Got the ball and hoofed it upfield with little method
Kenna - Struggled in the middle
Hutchinson - Less impressive than at Leeds
Devlin - Poor
Johnson, D - Never got into the game
Powell - Struggled
Savage - Head and shoulders above the rest
Kirovski - Had little impact
Morrison - Woeful, really needs to start proving his worth

John - Looked ok, and got a comeback goal
Fagan - Wasted glorious chance, but generally did ok
Hughes - Hardly touched the ball