Fulham beat Norwich to progress
9:45pm Tuesday 14th January 2014 in © Press Association 2014
Darren Bent masterminded Fulham's 3-0 FA Cup third-round replay victory over Norwich at Craven Cottage as the Canaries' winless run reached eight matches.
The 29-year-old former England striker fired home Fulham's first goal to cap an impressive build-up sequence, before setting in motion the move that brought the decisive second from Ashkan Dejagah for Rene Meulensteen's side.
Steve Sidwell added a third goal just past the hour, his sixth of the season, as Fulham tied up a fourth-round trip to Sheffield United.
Norwich's second slump of the season shows no signs of abating, this latest loss sure to increase the pressure on manager Chris Hughton.
On loan from Aston Villa for the season, Bent's fitness, sharpness and form have all been castigated during his Craven Cottage stint.
But on Tuesday night he claimed his fifth goal of the season, and his second against Norwich this term after striking in the 1-1 draw at Carrow Road on January 4 that set up this replay.
Bent has had to play second fiddle to Dimitar Berbatov so far under new Fulham boss Meulensteen.
The 13-cap England striker showed signs of a recovery of form here though, suggesting he is ready to shrug off the seeming lack of focus that blighted his start to life at Fulham under former boss Martin Jol.
So sloppy in defensive transition between back four and midfield in Saturday's 4-1 Barclays Premier League hammering by Sunderland, Fulham were restored to solidity against Hughton's Norwich.
Captain Brede Hangeland's guiding hand, coupled with a tidy home debut for 21-year-old Dan Burn, transformed Fulham's play without the ball.
And Giorgos Karagounis, though prone to dallying on the ball, offered a protective cloak to the defence so absent against the Black Cats.
Fit-again Fulham goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg was straight into the action from the off, denying Nathan Redmond after Josh Murphy had threaded him clean through on goal.
The Holland stopper could only watch on as Snodgrass cut inside on the edge of the area though, and launched a curling shot against the crossbar.
Norwich then had Fulham as rattled as the woodwork, but Johan Elmander could not connect after teeing himself up on the volley in the inside-left channel in the home box.
Hangeland's slip allowed Elmander to nip in behind, but his cross eluded a team-mate.
The Sweden stalwart crept his way to another chance moments later, but could only turn a low cross wide of Stekelenburg's right post.
Sidwell fired in Fulham's first shot on the 10-minute mark, but Mark Bunn was live to the low 20-yard drive.
Snodgrass fed Redmond again, but the former Birmingham man drilled his shot wide from the edge of the area.
Murphy skipped clear of Kieran Richardson next, only for Burn to clear his near-post cross.
Javier Garrido's foul on Dejagah yielded a 20-yard free kick and a sight of goal for Fulham, but Pajtim Kasami's effort drew nothing more than a routine stop from Bunn.
So circumspect for the first quarter-hour, suddenly Fulham produced the match's first top-class move, capped with a neat finish from loan man Bent.
Sascha Riether sent Kasami down the right flank after a smart flick-off from Dejagah.
Iran midfielder Dejagah's well-conceived near-post run and intelligent dummy opened the door for Bent, and the Aston Villa forward delivered a patient finish.
Riether's long-range drive stayed true next, but not accurate enough to test Bunn.
Alex Kacaniklic twice nipped in behind Russell Martin as Fulham found fluency.
The 22-year-old Swede continued to tease Norwich down the left, in tandem with Richardson, but could not add that killer ball to his repertoire of jinks and fakes.
Criticism of Bent has been commonplace this term, but the 29-year-old showed another facet of class to set the move that brought Fulham's second goal.
Bent's prescient header capitalised on Bunn's wayward clearance, setting Karagounis into space on the right flank.
The Greece international shipped on to Kacaniklic adding weight to the move, and it was his square ball that offered Dejagah a tap-in.
The 27-year-old took his second goal of the season with relish, to consolidate Fulham's dominance.
Burn then got just enough to deflect a Norwich cross as far as Riether, who blasted behind for a corner to complete the clearance.
Bradley Johnson reached the neat set-piece, but could only nod over the bar.
Hughton sacrificed Redmond's creative talents in favour of a second striker at the break, adding Ricky van Wolfswinkel to the fray.
So as the rain teemed down the visitors abandoned their patient build-up play in favour of the direct approach.
There was no dividend in the guileless ruse though, as Fulham rebuffed early Norwich pressure after the turnaround.
Sidwell fired a cross straight at Bunn as Fulham sought further profit.
Fulham's desperation not to concede sucked them ever deeper into their own half as they allowed Norwich to dominate territory.
Captain Sebastien Bassong back-pedalled himself free at the far post from a corner after Sidwell had conceded a needless free kick.
But the former Newcastle defender could not generate any power, gifting Stekelenburg an easy save.
Fulham then wrapped up safe passage to the fourth round, thanks to Sidwell's powerful far-post header.
Garrido denied Dejagah with a last-ditch headed clearance, but his despairing interjection only gifted Riether time and space to cross from the right.
The German full-back took his time, picked his target, and Sidwell did the rest, for his second goal in four days after his consolation effort in Saturday's 4-1 Sunderland loss.