Fulham boss Rene Meulensteen salutes his young guns in Norwich City FA Cup tie
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Fulham boss Rene Meulensteen had to diffuse his own transfer sub-plot after striker Dimitar Berbatov was left out for the Cottagers’ 1-1 FA Cup third round draw at Carrow Road.
The experienced Bulgarian has been touted with a January move to Arsenal, although Arsene Wenger distanced himself from reports he is set for an Emirates’ switch prior to the weekend. Barbatov returned on New Year’s Day to inspire Fulham to a vital Premier League win over West Ham and Meulensteen is taking no risks with his talisman. Former Ipswich striker Darren Bent opened the scoring in his absence before Robert Snodgrass levelled in first half stoppage time.
“Berba was not injured but he had just come back from that niggling injury. We were so happy that he was able to play the 90 minutes against West Ham and we thought it was better he recuperates in a good fashion to be ready for the Sunderland (league) game,” said Meulensteen. “You ask me about transfers and there is nothing more to report. It was a good goal from Darren and that is what he is all about in the penalty box. We didn’t want a replay and I don’t think Chris (Hughton) wanted it either but that’s how it turned out. We still had one or two little opportunities, but a draw’s a good result away from home. We’ve got the home advantage now so hopefully we can turn a draw into a win. The FA Cup is a great competition to be in and it is a competition where you want to utilise the squad.”
Meulensteen was indebted to David Stockdale who denied Ricky van Wolfswinkel in either half. The Dutchman drew parallels between his keeper’s second half reaction stop to deny van Wolfswinkel and England World Cup winner Gordon Banks’ iconic save from Pele in the 1970 World Cup.
“We needed him to make a Gordon Banks-like save to keep us in the game. It really reminded me of the Pele effort on the line,” said Meulensteen. “David was very good throughout because the first half he kept us in the game, he was very solid, he dealt with everything that he had to deal with.
“It’s definitely up there. If you look at it and watch it back, it was a fantastic cross for a start and it was a great header from van Wolfswinkel, and I thought it was in to be perfectly honest. It was a fantastic save and that’s what makes football so exciting. At the moment Maarten (Stekelenburg) is injured and David’s stepped into his place and he’s done really well.”
Fulham fielded four young debutants and a familiar old head in Clint Dempsey who has re-joined the club from Seattle Sounders during the MLS off-season.
“I’m very pleased with him,” said Meulensteen. “We wanted to see how he got through the first 45 minutes and I asked him and he felt good. Clint was good and, like I’ve said, I’m glad he’s part of our squad now. You look at the game and it gives you opportunities to bring other people into the fold. Four players made their debuts, four young players, which in my opinion is the biggest bonus. It’s a breath of fresh air in that respect so that was a big positive for us.
“It was a great assist from Chrissy David for our goal. Dan Burn was on loan to Birmingham and has done a fantastic job there, and it was a good opportunity to have a look and see how he’s progressing. I thought he was excellent, absolutely excellent - it was like he’d played many more games for us before. He’s calm, he dealt with everything, he reads the game well, his timing was good and I’m very pleased with him.”