The knocks keep coming for Blackpool. Reeling from the departure of not one, but two managers since autumn the Championship club were denied victory over Fulham by not one, but two late goals here. Kieran Richardson spared Martin Jol from a painful defeat with a stunning 90th‑minute equaliser before Brede Hangeland unwittingly headed Fulham into round four with a penalty shoot-out looming.
Fortune was undoubtedly on Fulham's side on the Fylde coast where, despite a dominant first hour, they survived several scares to secure a trip to Manchester United or West Ham. "We showed a lot of character but we need more urgency up front," admitted Jol, whose decision to rest Dimitar Berbatov left Fulham as bereft of ingenuity, quality and penetration as their supporters must have feared. "We had good opportunities in the first half and there is a responsibility [on the strikers] to take the pressure off the team. At the start of the season we were scoring goals for fun but we are having problems now."
There was nothing wrong with Richardson's 25-yard finish that took the tie into extra-time with the final kick of normal time. Blackpool, who have been given permission by MK Dons to speak to Karl Robinson in their search for a replacement for Michael Appleton, should have caused an upset with a stirring finish to the second half and after creating the clearer openings throughout extra-time.
They led through Nathan Delfouneso's 81st-minute goal, after Mark Schwarzer met Matthew Briggs's sliced clearance with a weak punch straight to the striker, but could not hold out. The referee, Andre Marriner, was about to blow for full-time when Richardson volleyed into the bottom corner and despite the setback the Championship team, under the caretaker management of Steve Thompson, rallied superbly. Blackpool should have retaken the lead at the start of extra time when Schwarzer spilled a shot from Tiago Gomes but his fellow substitute Craig Cathcart blazed over from the rebound.
Tom Ince and Gary Taylor-Fletcher put excellent openings straight at the Fulham keeper before the visitors struck late once more. From a disputed corner by Damien Duff, Hangeland's header looped over Matt Gilks and in, although the final touch appeared to come from Cathcart. "I think it was an own goal," said Jol. "I've asked Brede and he said he didn't know who scored it. But it is a relief."
The disruption caused by Ian Holloway's departure in November, Appleton's brief tenure and now a second managerial search in three months was reflected in a sparse crowd at Bloomfield Road and Blackpool's league position - 15th in the Championship and nine points away from relegation plus the play-off places – but not their overall display against the Premier League side. Fulham controlled the first half but were left to rue a profligate display from Hugo Rodallega plus a near miss from Chris Baird with a glancing header from Giorgos Karagounis's corner.
A pitch that was heavily sanded in parts, hardened by the freezing temperature and potted with divots was hardly conducive to the two teams' attempts to play on the floor. But in fairness they kept trying. Blackpool posed a greater threat in the opening 10 minutes of the second half than they managed throughout the opening 45 and it increased as the contest wore on. But in vain.
"It is hard to take on top of everything that has happened," said Thompson, who reiterated his own claim for the manager's job at Blackpool. "I want to be No1 but it is Karl's [Oyston] decision. What will be, will be."