Fulham stretched their lead at top of the Second Division to twelve points after surviving torrential rain and a spirited fightback from Bristol Rovers to win a five-goal thriller at the Memorial Stadium.

Fulham went ahead after nine minutes when Kit Symons darted forward to meet Paul Trollope’s left wing centre.

The Cottagers hit the front after nine minutes when Kit Symons darted forward to meet Paul Trollope’s left wing centre. Geoff Horsfield poached his ninth goal in six games when he hammered home the rebound after a Neil Smith shot had been blocked to put the visitors in complete control eight minutes before the break

But Rovers came roaring back through goals from Andy Thomson – heading home his first of the season from a well-worked corner routine – and Jason Roberts, who scored a superb solo goal that lifted the roof of this atmospheric stadium after the ex-Wolves youngster – who replaced Barry Hayles when the Gas cult hero was sold to Fulham for £2m – sprinted away from Chris Coleman and fired a fine finish past a startled Maik Taylor.

But Fulham showed the character of champions to regain the lead on the hour when Trollope headed home a cross from Steve Finnan. The closing stages became heated with Rufus Brevett engaged in a ruckus with the home fans after a hefty challenge on Robbie Pethick before Roberts received his marching orders for lashing out at Neil Smith.

He outpaced Chris Coleman and regaining his balance when challenged before rifling his shot past Maik Taylor.

But by the 55th minute Fulham were in front again as Paul Trollope headed in from Steve Finnan’s centre.

BRISTOL ROVERS: Jones, Pethick, Challis, Trees (Ellington 73), Thomson (Trought 62), Foster, Shore, Hillier, Holloway, Cureton, Roberts.

Keegan, who questioned the officiating of assistant referee Wendy Toms, said the blood and thunder encounter encapsulated everything that was wonderful about English football: “Bristol Rovers are a good side but neither of us was able to play real football in these conditions. We were not at our best and just edged a result. I still wouldn’t have missed this game for anything. Clubs like this are just as important as at Wembley or Liverpool – and they are just as passionate in their way.”

BRISTOL ROVERS (4-4-2): Jones; Pethick, Challis, Trees (Ellington 73), Thomson (Trought 62); Foster, Shore, Hillier, Holloway; Cureton, Roberts. Subs (not used): Johnston.

BOOKED: Holloway.

SENT OFF: Roberts.

GOALS: Thomson (45), Roberts (49).

FULHAM (4-4-2): Taylor; Finnan, Brevett, Coleman, Symons; Smith, Morgan, Hayward, Trollope; Horsfield, Hayles (Peschisolido 83). Subs (not used): Uhlenbeek, Betsy.

BOOKED: Smith, Betsy.

GOALS: Symons (9), Horsfield (38), Trollope (59).