A place in the fifth round of the FA Cup is on the line when Fulham host Sunderland at Craven Cottage on Saturday afternoon.
The Cottagers defeated Hull City 2-0 to book their place in round four, while the Black Cats posted a 2-1 victory away to Shrewsbury Town.
Whether Fulham can cap off their meteoric rise with an unexpected piece of silverware remains to be seen, but the Cottagers may not need the Europa League place that FA Cup success will guarantee should they continue in the same vein domestically.
Marco Silva’s side are one of several teams taking advantage of Liverpool and Chelsea’s misfortunes to put themselves in the continental conversation, but back-to-back 1-0 losses to Champions League-chasing Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur – the latter coming from Harry Kane’s record-equalling 266th Spurs goal – shows that there is still some way to go for the seventh-placed Cottagers.
However, the West London club can dare to dream in the FA Cup, where goals from Layvin Kurzawa and Daniel James either side of the half-time whistle saw off Hull City in round three, and a first appearance in the fifth round since 2016-17 is within touching distance.
The fourth round has been Fulham’s kryptonite recently, though, as the Cottagers have been eliminated in this round three years in a row between 2019 and 2021, although two of those exits did come at the hands of Manchester City.
Four of the Cottagers’ last five FA Cup matches at Craven Cottage have also ended in defeat, but on a brighter note, Silva’s steadfast side have shipped just four goals in their last seven games in all competitions and are firm favourites to get the job done here.
Talk about coming up clutch in the dying embers, Sunderland were on the verge of a shock elimination from the FA Cup in their third-round battle with League One outfit Shrewsbury Town, who broke the deadlock through Matthew Pennington with 81 minutes on the clock.
However, after the fourth official’s board had gone up to signal added time, Ross Stewart and Luke O’Nien came up with a pair of quickfire goals for the Black Cats to prolong their FA Cup journey – for the time being at least – in the most dramatic of circumstances.
Tony Mowbray’s side are currently pre-occupied with their Championship playoff push, which gathered pace courtesy of a 2-0 win over Middlesbrough last weekend, as Stewart and Amad Diallo struck to land the ninth-placed Black Cats to within one point of the top six.
A pair of goals versus the 10 men of Boro saw Sunderland find the back of the net for the 10th game in a row in all competitions, but they had also conceded in seven games on the bounce prior to keeping Michael Carrick’s men at bay, and not since 2009-10 have they been knocked out in round four of the FA Cup.
Sunderland have not gone further than round four since a fifth-round exit in 2014-15, but they overcame Fulham 3-1 in a fourth-round replay that year and also have a seven-match unbeaten run on the road to protect at Craven Cottage.