DOWN and out but certainly not disgraced, if this is to be York City's last ever FA Cup foray then at least they went with a bang not a whimper.

Thankfully, with buyers circling, it is looking increasingly likely that the Minstermen will survive and so too their involvement in football's greatest knock-out competition.

For those doubting the allure of the old lady then Bootham Crescent provided enough to suggest the Cup, just like City, is still very much alive and kicking.

True enough, the fairytale ending which would have seen the paupers overcome the might of the nouveau riche was lacking.

But in every other way the essence of the Cup was present - a near-full house, a crackling atmosphere, incidents and accidents and, for a time, something more tangible than hope that an upset was on the cards.

In the end even the most ardent City fan could not quibble with the final outcome.

On a sticky surface not for the feint-hearted, Fulham were Premiership in the extreme - quick, strong and clinical at just the right moments.

They may not have read the FA Cup script but Jean Tigana would not have dared planned for more prior to kick-off.

But it was certainly no cakewalk down easy-street for the visitors.

City did more than ruffle their feathers and for a 20-minute period in the second-half definitely had Fulham rattled and on the run.

Indeed, but for a save from Dutch international Edwin Van Der Sar to prevent Chris Brass from heading home what would have been an equaliser then the outcome may have been very different.

Events may also have unfolded very differently too had Richard Cooper's snap-shot inside the first 30 seconds gone either side of the towering shot-stopper instead of straight at him.

Strangely enough given that flashing start, the expectation that City, pumped full of adrenaline, would lay siege to the Fulham goal in the opening chapters of the tie was never realised.

It soon became apparent that City were intent on using their heads more than simple muscle and bustle.

Perhaps fearing the undoubted extra pace and precision of their opponents in attack, City were content to get bodies behind the ball when possession was lost and minimise the space left in behind.

Given the visitors' obvious class, it was brave as it was surprising and but for the superb reflexes of Alan Fettis it would have been fatally flawed.

The City shot-stopper just got his finger-nails to Louis Saha's cross-cum-shot, denied Steed Malbranque with a superb save at his near post, then produced a moment of near-genius to push Steve Marlet's arrowed header over the bar.

City had their moments when they did manage to snaffle possession, Lee Bullock heading just over from Graham Potter's corner.

But rarely did possession turn into concerted pressure.

The 'oomph' was missing and the red blanket they had spread across the park to keep out the Cottagers was in danger of suffocating their best intentions.

Sure enough, as the half-hour mark approached, Fulham forced the breakthrough.

Saha skipped away from Bullock and evaded the lunge of Mike Basham before threading the ball through for Malbranque, who raced clear and carefully lifted the ball over the advancing Fettis.

As damaging a blow the goal was, City remained resolute thereafter, so much so that by half-time the cautious approach of the first 45 minutes started to look sensible.

City were still in the game and it paved the way for a second-half onslaught more in keeping with the traditions of the Cup.

Thankfully, City didn't disappoint as they cranked up the tempo, fancied their chances and gave it a go.

Suddenly Fulham looked unnerved, epitomised by a hashed clearance from Van Der Sar that ran unfavourably for Nogan and a booking for dissent for a frustrated Marlet, who needlessly booted the ball away after conceding a free-kick.

The visitors were still dangerous, Marlet flashing a shot across the face of the goal before Zat Knight forced another save from Fettis with a 30-yard screecher that was heading for the bottom corner.

But it was City who looked the most likely to score, never more so than on 72 minutes.

Basham, picked up a lose ball out wide on the left and singled out Brass with his centre.

The City skipper flung himself at the ball only for Van Der Sar to do likewise and get in a crucial block when an equaliser looked a certainty.

City's effort and commitment could not be faulted but little more than ten minutes later the game and the Cup was up.

Marlet controlled Van Der Sar's clearance and was suddenly in the clear. Outstripping the York defence, he steadied himself before lashing the ball past Fettis with an unerring finish.

But at least City battled to the last. Potter forced an acrobatic save from Van Der Sar with a curling free-kick before the Fulham keeper also punched the ball clear just as substitute Peter Duffield poised to shoot.

Fulham had a chance to add a third in stoppage time as Malbranque raced clear again only for Matt Hocking to make a telling challenge, forcing the Frenchman to shoot wide.

It would have given the scoreline an unfavourable sheen in the Cottagers' favour. City had performed with credit and certainly didn't deserve to lose 3-0.

Instead, they bid au revoir to Fulham and the FA Cup with pride intact and primed for the only real battle that counts - Football League survival.

Fact file:

York City: Fettis 8, Edmondson 7, Hocking 7, Basham 7, Hobson 7 (Duffield 75), Potter 7, Cooper 7, Brass 7, Bullock 8, Nogan 7 (Mathie 83), Proctor 7 Subs, not used: Howarth, Smith, Richardson

Bookings: Nogan 56 (foul)

Sent-off: None


Scorers: Malbranque 26m, Marlet 86m

Van Der Sar, Finnan, Melville, Goma, Brevett, Knight, Collins (Goldbaek 73), Malbranque, Legwinski, Saha, Marlet Subs, not used: Taylor, Ouaddou, Willcock, Stolcers

Bookings: Marlet 61 (dissent), Collins 71 (foul)

Sent-off: None

Attendance: 7,653

Referee: Jeff Winter (Stockton)

Updated: 12:03 Monday, January 28, 2002