Fulham 4 (Dempsey 8,62 pen,80, Duff 86) Charlton 0.
Kevin Nolan reports from Craven Cottage.
Beaten but far from disgraced, Charlton made a spirited, though possibly unlamented, exit from the FA Cup at the hands of Fulham - or, more accurately, the feet of Clint Dempsey, the Cottagers' teak-tough Texan. Dempsey's hat-trick fired the Premier League side into the Fourth Round draw, leaving the Addicks free to concentrate on more pressing concerns - namely finding the right exit from League One. The decks have been neatly cleared for next Saturday's crucial clash with hot pursuers Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough.
There was, of course, no suggestion that Chris Powell approached this Third Round tie with anything but total commitment. His strongest available side distinguished itself against Fulham, whose manager Martin Jol took the visitors seriously enough to respond in kind. In Dempsey, Jol had that extra edge in class, which tipped the balance in the West Londoners' favour. There was precious little else between them.
Roared on by over 7,000 travelling fans, doing their bit to swell an otherwise threadbare home crowd, the Addicks began brightly, with Danny Hollands meeting Johnnie Jackson's inswinging corner and forcing John Arne Riise to clear his header off the line. Fulham responded immediately by snatching an important early lead.
Orchestrator of much of his side's approach play, veteran schemer Danny Murphy was coming in for the usual, ill-advised abuse from the visiting terraces, his every cultured touch jeered, any semblance of a mistake celebrated. There was plenty of the former, all but none of the latter. The midfield maestro hardly misplaced a pass, though the 8th minute delivery he threaded through to Dempsey enjoyed a fortunate deflection which played the American clear of a wrongfooted defence. As John Sullivan valiantly spread himself to block, Dempsey coolly steered the ball inside the right post.
If they were demoralised by the setback, the visitors manfully disguised their disappointment. Clever combination between Bradley Wright-Phillips and Yann Kermorgant provided space for the big Breton to chip skilfully for the far corner. At full stretch, David Stockdale made the first of several fine saves in clawing the shot aside, with Jackson drilling the rebound into the sidenet from an acute angle. Stockdale was tested again as Wright-Phillips anticipated Brede Hangeland's weak backheader, catching up with the ball near the left byline before cutting in to shoot fiercely with his right foot. Stockdale's legs blocked the shot at his near post. A rousing Cup tie was underway.
Enjoying himself immensely in central midfield, meanwhile, fearless Bradley Pritchard was taking on Murphy and winning his share of personal battles. Behind him, the indomitable Chris Solly initially found winger Kerim Frei a tricky handful but gradually subdued the highly rated youngster; Frei's withdrawal on 56 minutes, proved, however, to be a Pyrrhic victory for Solly which had the unhappy effect of paving the way for substitute Damien Duff to run the Addicks ragged on the right flank. But before that, Charlton were to scare their hosts witless.
Sullivan had already saved marvellously from Murphy's deflected sidefoot drive before the Addicks hit back. A quickfire exchange of passes involving Wright-Phillips and Kermorgant ripped Fulham's defensive cover to ribbons but Stockdale left his line alertly to smother Wright-Phillips close range effort. Proving to be a first class deputy for Mark Schwarzer, Stockdale then took off spectacularly to touch Danny Green's 30-yard piledriver over the bar.
Duff introduced himself by passing in to Bobby Zamora's feet, then accurately curling the return ball towards the left corner, where Sullivan's straining right hand turned the shot aside. A minute later, Dempsey's second goal more or less sealed Fulham's passage into Round Four. Linking up with Bryan Ruiz, he took the Costa Rican's pass and chipped deftly into the right corner. This hardbitten Yank can cope with the rough stuff and produce the most delicate of touches where the occasion demands. He completed his hat-trick from the penalty spot after Sullivan brought down the flying Ruiz before, four minutes from time, Duff added insult to Charlton's injured pride by benefitting from another outrageous deflection in beating Sullivan from 15 yards.
Charlton's third Cup elimination of the season won't cause undue gloom at The Valley. Unlike Fulham, they entertained no expectation of winning the Cup. Their sights are trained on the Championship where a continuation of their excellent League One form will see them compete next season. That's the be-all, the end-all, a free-for-all. It's tough getting to the top. And it's even tougher staying there.
Fulham: Stockdale, Kelly, Senderos, Hangeland, Riise, Dembele (Kasami 85), Murphy (Sidwell 81), Ruiz, Frei (Duff 59), Dempsey, Zamora. Not used: Etheridge, Sa, Gecov, Aaron Hughes.
Charlton: Sullivan, Solly, Morrison, Taylor, Wiggins (Evina 72), Green (Wagstaff 72), Hollands (Andy Hughes 85), Pritchard, Jackson, Kermorgant, Wright-Phillips. Not used: Pope, Hayes, Euell, Cort.
Referee: Phil Dowd.