Status should come with a health warning. Tottenham Hotspur, for the first time in their history, are looking forward to a tie in the last 16 of the Champions League but it looked here as if everyday life had become a mystery to them.

So disoriented were they that Craven Cottage appeared even less familiar to Harry Redknapp's team than San Siro will be when they take on Milan. Fulham's disbelief over the outcome of this FA Cup tie must have been as great as that of the spectators.

This is the club's record victory over Tottenham, yet it looked all but unavoidable and not only because the captain, Michael Dawson, was sent off when the score stood at 1-0. Fulham advance to a fifth-round home tie with Bolton or Wigan. Tottenham, for their part, move into a period of self-analysis as they ask how they could have been so incompetent.

Mark Hughes's side caused such havoc from the outset that a startling result had the tone of an inevitability well before the close. The Fulham support was so much at ease that it relished early mockery when chanting "You might as well go home" to the visiting fans. The latter might have taken it as compassionate advice. Only the thought of further derision on the way to the exits kept them in their seats.

There was a tinge of clemency at least since the scoring had been completed by half-time. Blame can be pinned on Dawson for getting himself sent off in the 14th minute, but the captain, as he conceded a penalty, had no more than a severe case of the bewilderment that was everywhere in his team. That spot-kick was the secondfrom which Fulham prospered during the opening quarter of an hour.

Alan Hutton, the visitors' right-back, had signalled the general lack of concentration as he needlessly brought down Clint Dempsey. Danny Murphy then converted the first of the penalties after 11 minutes.

In theory the situation might just have been recoverable by Tottenham, bland as their three-man attack had been at that stage, but there was no substance in midfield to check Fulham for long. Tottenham's back four, for their part, were just too woozy to limit the damage.

The next penalty came three minutes later as Dawson took the witless decision to tug back Moussa Dembélé, who had run past him and into the area. After the red card for the defender, Murphy slotted home once again. For the sake of variety, the third goal arose from a different sort of set piece. In the 23rd minute Andy Johnson glanced on a Damien Duff corner and Brede Hangeland knocked the ball into the net.

The entire victory was as elementary as that goal. It looked effortless for Dembélé to go past Sébastien Bassong in first-half stoppage time, even if the shot that flew beyond Heurelho Gomes at his near post had remarkable power and accuracy. The Champions League representatives had not come to Craven Cottage with any notion that the varying merits of the goals they conceded would be a topic of conversation.

It was shaming that the Tottenham manager, Harry Redknapp, should even try to quibble by contending that the red card might not have been shown to Dawson since Dembélé had gone on to shoot.

By then, the referee, Phil Dowd, had blown for the penalty. Tottenham did try to regain a little self-respect in a largely bland second half but the contest finished as it had begun.

That last phase saw a renewed onslaught by a Fulham team professional enough to try to make the most of rare circumstances. An Aaron Hughes header hit the bar in the 86th minute and Gomes had to reach a Zoltan Gera shot soon after.

Redknapp's men have to recover before the Premier League match at Blackburn Rovers on Wednesday. Some effort will be made to dismiss this drubbing as a combination of ill-fortune and aberrations that the side will not repeat.

Such a theory might conceivably be well-founded but this was a jarring outcome. Tottenham would not claim that they had diluted the line-up all that much at Craven Cottage.

After all they are yet to prove they are one of the small number of clubs that places a low priority on the FA Cup because they have faith in a grander destiny. The task is to ensure that contamination of this embarrassment is contained. Fulham, after four home wins in a row, may start to believe they can achieve a higher standing.