By Morgan Phillips
Gary Lineker, viewing the highlights of the Cardiff-Fulham tie, asked whether the match was played behind closed doors, so empty were the stands.
Certainly the FA had done little to encourage any spectators from London. The 11.30am kick off on a Sunday morning took no account of train times and it was fortunate that Fulham FC had provided free coach travel for supporters.
Nor did Cardiff fans have much incentive to attend. Manager Neil Warnock had made it clear that the FA Cup was less important to him than keeping his team in the Championship.
In that case he must have been annoyed when Cardiff took an 8th minute lead.
Anthony Pilkington’s free kick intimidated certain members of the defensive wall and the ball was deflected past Marcus Bettinelli. This was the only blemish on an impressive display by the visitors, who dominated the rest of the match keeping the ball in the Cardiff half.
Apparently Warnock is interested in signing Bettinelli, who made an impressive save from Joe Rawls but otherwise had few chances to show his ability.
Unable to use Chris Martin and lacking confidence in Smith and Woodrow, Slavisa Jokanovic played without an obvious striker but Stefan Johansen is scoring regularly.
The excellent Ryan Fredericks bamboozled Joe Bennett to lay on a birthday goal for Johansen in the 14th minute. Just after the half hour, from another Fredericks centre, Tom Cairney hit the bar, and the ball rebounded to Ryan Sessegnon lurking suspiciously close to the net. The youngster tapped in his second senior goal, and TV replays did not show him to be offside.
The second half though less eventful will have entertained neutral viewers almost as much as Fulham fans. Jokanovic’s tactics succeeded but the narrowness of the victory re-emphasised the need for a new centre-forward. The manager has expressed three wishes for the transfer window: finding a defender, finding a striker, and keeping Sessegnon.
He must also be praying that no-one makes an irresistible offer for Tom Cairney, whose leadership has contributed greatly to Fulham’s improvement this season.
In the next round Hull will visit the Cottage. City are also preoccupied with their League position but their League Cup run indicates that they should not be underestimated. Fulham must improve on their patchy record at home.
This tie will enforce changes to Fulham’s January games, which now include the rearranged fixture at Reading. Full marks to the Royals, who have promised free admission for ticket-holders of the abandoned match.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not necessarily those of Hammersmith & Fulham Council.