This weekend, Fulham looked like the worst team in the Premier League. Tonight at Craven Cottage, however, René Meulensteen’s team were on a different level than Norwich City – more of an indictment of the visiting Canaries than the recovering Whites. Losing 3-0 in West London, Chris Hughton’s team was escorted out of the FA Cup, failing to challenge a team that lost 4-1 on the same ground three days earlier.
The Cottagers took advantage of a weak Norwich left side to score two goals before halftime. The first, coming after 15 minutes, saw Pajtim Kasami beat the Canaries to a ball at the byline before cutting his pass back for Ashkan Dejagah. The Iranian international allowed the ball to run to Darren Bent nine yards from goal, with the Fulham striker putting his shot just wide of Mark Bunn to make it 1-0.
Four minutes before half time, Dejagah scored on a similar play, with Alexander Kacaniklic getting behind the defense before play the ball far post to his open teammate. The easy finish sent the Cottagers into intermission up 2-0.
In the 68th minute, another surprisingly easy goal put the match away, with Sascha Reiter’s cross from Fulham’s right finding Steve Sidwell at the far post. Redirecting his header home, the Cottagers’ midfielder gave the home side a lead they’d carry to full-time, reversing the three-goal embarrassment they suffered on Saturday.
Coming off a disastrous result against Sunderland, Fulham gave fans reason to believe their team is more erratic than bad. With goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg and defender Brede Hangeland’s returns producing the team’s first clean sheet since Dec. 8, there were some faint hints Tuesday’s win could be a legitimate turnaround. Even on top of a 3-0 win, there was a silver lining.
Norwich’s performance, however, prevents any broad conclusions. The ease with which Fulham produced their goals didn’t reflect superior performance or particularly clever tactics. With conventional, straight forward attacks down their right, Fulham made Norwich look inept – unable to defend the most basics play you’ll see in top-flight of English soccer.
Though they took care of business on Tuesday, Fulham will have to wait until their Saturday trip to Arsenal to see if they’ve made any meaningful progress from Saturday’s loss. Norwich, on the other hand, lip out of the Cup hoping to show more fight Saturday against Hull.
Third round matches
Charlton Athletic 2-2 Oxford United
Birmingham City 3-0 Bristol Rovers
AFC Bournemouth 4-1 Burton Albion
Third round replays
Watford 2-0 Bristol City
Peterborough United 2-3 Kidderminster Harriers
Milton Keynes Dons 1-3 (a.e.t) Wigan Athletic
Sheffield Wednesday 4-1 Macclesfield Town
Preston North End 3-2 Ipswich Town
Plymouth Argyle 2-3 Port Vale