Sheffield United's Michael Doyle, left centre, is shown a red card by referee Andre Marriner following a challenge on Fulham's Chris David during their FA Cup, Fourth Round soccer match at Bramall Lane, Sheffield, England, Sunday Jan. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/PA, Nick Potts)

Fulham can’t get past 10-man Sheffield United

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Fulham can look forward to another FA Cup replay after failing to score more than a goal against League One side Sheffield United, despite the Blades being down a man for nearly forty minutes.

Clint Dempsey didn’t even make the bench for Fulham’s trip to Bramhall Lane, possibly because the US international played the full 90 minutes against Arsenal last weekend, and René Meulensteen wasn’t prepared to risk him ahead of the midweek relegation battle against Swansea. All in all, the Cottagers made 11 changes to the side that lost 3-0 to Arsenal last time out, although Darren Bent still didn’t manage to make the starting XI.

But even the use of an entirely new side wasn’t enough to boost Fulham to victory over a side sitting two divisions below. In fact, it was Sheffield that scored first, in the 31st minute. Chris Porter easily wiggled through the Cottagers defense, got on the end of a low cross and neatly put the ball past David Stockdale.

The visitors very nearly got their own back minutes later, when  Hugo Rodallega was brought down inside the area, but Andre Mariner waved away appeals. When halftime came around, the Blades were still on top, both in score and in play.

Fulham were thrown a lifeline when Sheffield captain Michael Doyle  was sent off five minutes after the restart, although the hosts nearly doubled their lead just a minute after. But with fifteen minutes remaining, Rodallega leveled things up, sending a sharp shot into the bottom corner.

With Fulham sitting just a point outside the relegation zone, another replay is likely the last thing Meulensteen wanted. Now he’ll have to decide again: prioritize the league and send out another inexperienced squad to face the Blades, or field a few regular starters in hopes that a solid win will give his side a confidence boost.

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.