Fulham live up to prime-time slot as Joao Palhinha and Manor Solomon keep FA Cup dream alive
Reaching a first FA Cup quarter-final since 2010 offered both delight and trepidation for Fulham fans.
Their win over Leeds last night was fully merited, the goals both stunners — first by Joao Palhinha and then Manor Solomon.
Palhinha's brilliant 25-yard strike, along with his all-round combative display, once again set him apart and continued his outstanding form since joining Fulham last summer.
But his yellow card against Wolves last Friday was his 10th of the season and means he is suspended for upcoming Premier League matches against Brentford and Arsenal.
His performance last night reinforced just how well he has taken to life in England since his £20million move from Sporting. He has become just as important as top scorer Aleksandar Mitrovic.
"Of course he will be a miss for us — he's an important player," said Fulham manager Marco Silva. "Another [player] will come in. We have two solutions: Harrison Reed or [January signing, Sasa] Lukic to be in that No6 position. One of them will be there and do a good job, for sure.
"A very good recovery reaction from Joao and great finishing," added the manager, understating the beauty of Fulham's opener.
Palhinha made an excellent slide tackle on Weston McKennie to stop Leeds counter-attacking 20 minutes in. Then, 25 seconds later, he cut out a Tyler Adams pass intended for Marc Roca with one touch, curling the ball into the corner, via the post, with his second.
It was typical of Fulham's tackle master to score after regaining the ball for his team.
Fulham's second scorcher came after half-time, when Solomon made it four goals in four games with a whipped effort following a one-two with Mitrovic. The Israeli, on loan from Shakhtar Donetsk, is growing in stature all the time at Craven Cottage.
Both goals befitted the occasion: an FA Cup clash live on BBC1, Gary Lineker, studio pundits and all. Yet it’s a shame more Fulham fans were not able to see Palhinha and Solomon’s strikes live at Craven Cottage. The 19,359 attendance marked the lowest turnout at Fulham all season, likely aided by their prime-time slot.
Tuesday night football in bitterly cold weather is already a difficult sell for some supporters, add free-to-view broadcast into the mix and then £40 tickets and you have large sections of Craven Cottage empty.
With Blackburn knocking out Leicester on the night, another top-flight team sent packing, Fulham can rightly start to daydream of a Wembley trip. The club have only been to one FA Cup final, losing 2-0 to West Ham in 1975, but the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool are all out of this year’s edition and more Premier League teams will follow.
Silva said: “We are humble enough to know that we are not favourites — the favourites are different teams than us — but we want to chase all the opposition sides.
“We know as a club that our story in this competition wasn’t really great. This season we are changing so many things in this football club. Our ambition is really high in this competition.”
Thanks to goals from their two shrewdest summer signings, Fulham march on.