Fulham 1 Blackpool 1
Giorgos Karagounis’ sensational late goal denied Blackpool a famous FA Cup scalp as Fulham escaped with a third-round replay today.
The Seasiders looked set to add another memorable chapter to their cup folklore - almost 60 years after Sir Stanley Matthews inspired their sole triumph – when Ludovic Sylvestre gave them a shock lead at Craven Cottage.
Veteran Greece midfielder Karagounis rolled back the years with a stunning half-volley after Fulham lay siege to the visitors’ goal but Martin Jol’s men have it all to do to avoid Blackpool completing the upset at Bloomfield Road.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the ’Matthews Final’, one of the most celebrated cup finals of all time.
But it was the Seasiders’ current ’Wizard of Dribble’ who was on the name of everyone’s lips at Craven Cottage today, with Thomas Ince starting despite reportedly being on the brink of rejoining Liverpool.
Ince and captain Alex Baptiste – said to be close to a move to Leicester – were both cup-tied by manager Michael Appleton, something which might affect their transfer value.
Then again, so could a star turn against a side who were Barclays Premier League rivals less than two years ago and who only ended a rotten run of one win in 12 on New Year’s Day.
Appleton had certainly learnt how to frustrate npower Championship opposition, drawing seven of his 11 games since replacing Ian Holloway.
Baptiste was in the thick of it early on, beating Dimitar Berbatov to Karagounis’ fine ball only to almost turn it past his own goalkeeper.
And it was not long before Ince got in on the act, blasting too close to David Stockdale from close range after a neat 13th-minute move and lay-off from Chris Basham.
Basham then lived up to his name by clattering into Bryan Ruiz, bringing a booking and almost further punishment when the victim’s 20-yard free-kick was tipped wide by Matt Gilks.
Gilks would have been helpless moments later had Ashkan Dejagah diverted Alexander Kacaniklic’s drilled cross the right side of the post and there were unsuccessful appeals for handball when Ruiz’s shot from six yards careered off a Blackpool player.
Back came the visitors, Sylvestre thwarted by Steve Sidwell’s desperate tackle before a lovely backheel from the recalled Kevin Phillips set up Ince for another drive Stockdale could only palm behind.
Fulham’s frustration was growing, their attempts becoming increasingly speculative before half-time, with manager Jol waiting just nine minutes into the second half before throwing on Hugo Rodallega for Dejagah.
The home inside had certainly upped the tempo but their dominance was an illusion as Blackpool broke out to take the lead just before the hour mark.
Nathan Delfouneso had just seen a penalty appeal turned down when he again found himself on the left edge of the area, this time picking out Sylvestre, who rifled a low 18-yard drive into the corner of the net.
Cue a Fulham siege, Blackpool defending desperately to deny the likes of Ruiz and Berbatov before Jol sent on Kieran Richardson for Kacaniklic and Kerim Frei for Matthew Briggs.
The visitors were looking a real threat on the break as time ticked down for the home side, who were in need of a moment of inspiration.
It finally arrived with 10 minutes remaining and it was worth waiting for.
Blackpool thought they had cleared a corner but they did not reckon with Karagounis, who controlled the ball before unleashing an unstoppable dipping half-volley from the corner of the area, which sailed over the helpless Gilks.
It was Karagounis’ first goal for the club and arguably one of the best of the season.
It could easily have been followed by a winner but Ruiz’s header against the bar from Richardson’s cross and an amazing stoppage-time miss – seemingly by Rodallega – from a corner.