Cairney's classy finish is only good enough to secure Fulham a second chance against Sunderland
FA Cup Fourth Round
Fulham (0) 1 Cairney 61
Sunderland (1) 1 Clarke 6
Tom Cairney’s sublime finish spared the Whites a fourth-round exit at the hands of vibrant Championship opponents Sunderland.
The Fulham skipper has endured a difficult campaign – starting only once in the Premier League and having to accept a bit-part role as a sub. But here he showed again the class and calmness he possesses to save the day.
Taking delivery of a pass from wide on the left from Layvin Kurzawa, he managed to side-step two defenders before drilling low into the bottom corner.
Having trailed since the sixth minute, home fans must have been expecting the top-flight team to go on and win it, but Sunderland remained steadfast and kept attacking at every opportunity.
A replay at the Stadium of Light was fully merited by the underdogs.
The Whites were stunned after six minutes when Issa Diop’s carelessness paved the way for Jack Clarke to bear down on goal unopposed before firing low past Marek Rodak’s left hand.
The defender dithered on the ball and Clarke dispossessed him before racing on to finish smartly.
The Black Cats, backed by a packed Putney End stand, suffered a blow when top scorer Ross Stewart twisted an ankle and had to leave with the game only 18 minutes old. Tony Mowbray’s side had no spare strikers on the subs bench either. But they made light of that disadvantage and their positive play deserved more goals.
Tosin went close for Fulham with a header and a neat exchange of passes with Andreas Pereira gave Harry Wilson an opening – which the winger curled just wide of the angle of crossbar and post.
Slowly, Fulham appeared to be taking control and they looked destined to draw level before the interval when Pereira was on the end of a Manor Solomon cross from the left byline but saw his powerful volley from 12 yards kept out by Danny Ballard on the goal line.
At the other end, Amad Diallo kept Fulham on their toes with his sharpness during several quick raids. In one of them, fashioned by former Fulham player Patrick Roberts, the nimble front man snatched at the chance, pulling a left-foot shot wide from close range.
In the second half, there was another warning when Abdoullah Ba almost capped a move with a goal – his far-post strike off target - and Diallo pinged another shot into Rodak’s legs as the visitors refused to merely sit on their lead.
Roberts then went close to doubling the lead with a run from half way which ended with a daisy cutter which was inches outside the far post. The near-misses eventually cost them.
Wilson might have made it 1-1 with a curler which forced Anthony Patterson into a leaping save and he had another dart at goal which needed more alert keeping from the Fulham stopper.
But the Whites finally drew level and the hosts looked like they had finally cracked it, especially as Marco Silva now sent on the reinforcements.
Aleksandar Mitrovic, Willian, Reid and Reed came on. Soon, Willian was bending in a free-kick that almost found the net. Solomon’s first-time effort from a Kenny Tete cross almost won it.
In a frantic finish, Reid almost found the net with a chested deflection and Willian rifled at goal only to see his effort tipped over.
But defeat at the last would have been rough on a very impressive Sunderland, who have now not lost an away game since a mid-October visit to Blackburn - a run of eight matches.
Whites: (4-2-3-1) Rodak – Tete, Diop, Tosin, Kurzawa – Palhinha (Reed 77), Cairney (Decordova-Reid 78)– Wilson (Willian 69), Pereira, Solomon – Vinicius (Mitrovic 64). Subs not used: Leno, Duffy, Ream, James, Harris
Black Cats: (4-2-3-1) Patterson – Hume, Ballard, Batth, Alese (Huggins h/t) – Michut (Ekwah 77) Neil – Roberts (Rigg 86), Diallo, Clarke (Bennette 77) – Stewart (Ba 20). Subs not used: Bass, Kelly, Johnson, Watson