Nigel Clough had challenged his team to deliver a performance and, thanks to Shaun Miller’s late winner, they also produced another memorable result.
Sheffield United secured their place in the last 16 of this season’s FA Cup when the substitute, who has struggled to recapture his best form following a long absence, turned home during the closing stages of extra time after Harry Maguire had climbed highest to meet Stephen McGinn’s corner.
Make no mistake, Clough’s players did not bridge the 47-place gap separating these two teams on the footballing pyramid by resorting to strong arm tactics or underhand methods.
Instead, they controlled long periods of the game thanks to a combination of guts and guile.
Fulham, who saw Pajtim Kasimi go close with five minutes of extra time remaining, looked absolutely crestfallen when Miller, scoring his first goal in nearly 14 months after recovering from serious injury, pounced moments from time.
But this was no grave injustice. United deserved to go through.
It says much about the fickle nature of the modern game that, only 15 matches after being appointed, Rene Meulensteen’s position is already the subject of intense scrutiny following claims that Alan Curbishley, Fulham’s technical director, could soon take sole charge of first-team affairs.
Meulensteen, speaking after Saturday’s loss to Southampton left them propping up the rest of the Premier League, insisted he retained the “100 per cent” backing of owner Shahid Khan despite failing to address the problems which hastened the departure of his compatriot, Martin Jol.
The Dutchman, who has now presided over a run of four wins, two draws and nine defeats, will have more questions to answer given the pedestrian and, Kasami apart, predictable nature of Fulham’s performance here.
This competition has had an intoxicating effect upon United this season with Clough, an old-fashioned sporting romantic, promoting the theory that progress can help, not hinder, results in the league.
The South Yorkshire club had beaten Colchester, Cambridge and most notably Aston Villa en route to last night’s fourth-round replay in the capital, and were emboldened by the knowledge they also came within a whisker of ending Fulham’s interest nine days earlier.
United should have found Meulensteen’s charges a much more formidable proposition during a contest which saw the likes of Brede Hangeland and Scott Parker recalled after missing the 1-1 draw in South Yorkshire.
But it was the Blades who again caught the eye, with Jamie Murphy and Stefan Scougall emerging as constant threats while John Brayford also impressed. Fulham, whose starting 11 has amassed a grand total of 279 international caps, were pedestrian by comparison.
It was notuntil midway through the second half that Mark Howard, preferred to George Long, was forced to make a save of note.
With the visitors claiming three of their four away victories this season in the cup, hopes among a raucous travelling support that Clough’s players could repeat last month’s memorable triumph at Villa Park grew when Murphy flashed a low first-minute drive inches wide of David Stockdale’s right hand post.
McGinn, one of four changes to the team which lost at Crewe Alexandra last weekend, conceded the free-kick which Fulham’s Kasami thundered into the wall soon after but, for the most part, United went about their business with a calm assurance until Parker tested Howard’s handling from the edge of the penalty area.
Brayford, signed on loan from Cardiff City, launched a series of promising raids along the flank while Conor Coady and McGinn worked hard to shield their back four.
Indeed, for the majority of the opening period United were Fulham’s equals in terms of both skill and endeavour as the hosts were limited to a series of speculative long-range attempts and half-hearted set-piece routines.
A rare moment of indecision presented Muamer Tankovic, who had earlier produced a tame attempt from the corner of Howard’s box, with a clear-cut 28th-minute chance but, just as Clint Dempsey did moments later, the Swedish teenager badly miscued.
With Fulham inexplicably refusing to exploit the pace within their ranks, United contined to grow in stature as the half progressed.
Brayford and Stefan Scougall, combining with Flynn, both went close as the home crowd began to voice their displeasure.
Maguire outjumped Hangeland to meet McGinn’s corner but could not find the back of the net.
Likewise the dangerous Flynn when, having exchanged passes with Murphy, he prised open Fulham’s rearguard before seeing his angled shot blocked.
United seized the initiative again at the start of the second half when Bob Harris twice advanced forward and sent David Stockdale scampering across his line with speculative drives.
At the other end, Howard had been a relative bystander until Kasami forced him to palm clear after attempting to thread the ball inside the far post.
United, however, simply responded in kind with both Scougall and Brayford seeing efforts unwittingly blocked by markers.
Miller, though, was responsible for writing the fairytale ending when he turned home Maguire’s header with barely 60 seconds left on the clock.
Now for the fifth round.
Goal: Miller 119 (Sheffield United).
Fulham: Stockdale 6, Hangeland 6, Kasami 7, Kacaniklic 5 (Duff 59, 6), Rodallega 5 (Dejagah 59, 6), Parker 6 (Sidwell 70), Dempsey 6, Burn 7, Amborebieta 6, Tankovic 6, Passley 6. Not used: Stekelenburg, Karagounis, David, Christensen.
United: Howard 7, Harris 7 (Hill 91, 6), Brayford 7, Maguire 7, Flynn 8, Porter 7 (Baxter 76), McGinn 8, Collins 8, Coady 7, Scougall 8 (Miller 96), Murphy 7. Not used: Long, Kennedy, De Girolamo, Dimaio.
Referee: N Swarbrick (Lancashire),
Cautions: Harris (39), Amorebieta (83), Miller (100), Sidwell (105).