Blackburn Rovers goalkeeper Alan Kelly produced a string of fine saves to frustrate Fulham as Graeme Souness’ side came away from Craven Cottage with a point this afternoon.
The ew Rovers manager warned his players that many of them would have to improve over the final six weeks of the season or they would be looking for new clubs come the summer. Whilst the Scot was delighted with Kelly, he was realistic enough to realise that his new charges had profited from Maik Taylor having a day to forget in the home goal. The Northern Ireland international, who had been coached by Souness during his team at Southampton, made dreadful mistakes that handed precious equalisers to David Dunn and Keith Gillespie – the second of which arrived five minutes from time.
Kelly bailed out his centre half Darren Peacock with a superb penalty save but the former Queens Park Rangers centre back was to blame for both of the Whites’ goals. The visitors were fortunate not to be three goals down inside the first twenty minutes – which might have left the famously fiery Souness at risk of another heart failure. Kelly made a pair of outstanding stops to deny Kevin Ball and then foiled Karl-Heinz Riedle from the penalty spot after the veteran German striker had been fouled by Peacock.
The Rovers keeper was powerless to deny Barry Hayles, though, when the barrel-chested former Bristol Rovers striker breezed past Peacock and lashed home his ninth goal of the season. Going a goal down seemed to enliven Souness’s side, with Taylor’s reflexes tested by Damien Duff before Dunn went close from twenty yards. Egil Ostenstadt struggled to make an impact on his debut – expertly nullified by Chris Coleman, who dropped two divisions to join Fulham from Ewood Park back in 1997.
When the lively Irish winger Duff burst clear of Coleman, the Fulham captain was rescued by an instinctive block from Taylor, who had dashed from his line to try and quell any danger. But the momentum had changed and Blackburn grabbed a leveller when Taylor allowed a speculative strike from Dunn through his hands from 25 yards – perhaps distracted by a collision between Steve Harkness and Bjarne Goldbaek.
The Whites almost went back in front early in the second period when Hayles again left Peacock for dead but saw a first-team drive beaten away by Kelly. The former Preston North End and Sheffield United custodian then produced a stunning save to keep out Steve Hayward’s curler, but Riedle eventually redeemed himself by heading home a glorious Goldbaek cross.
But Taylor’s poor kick that went straight to his compatriot Gillespie cost the under pressure Paul Bracewell a valuable victory. The former Newcastle winger rattled the underside of the bar with a clever chip over Taylor, whose was in no man’s land, but the ball ended up in the net anyway after bouncing back towards goal off the unfortunate Andy Melville.
FULHAM (5-3-2): Taylor; Finnan, Goldbaek, Morgan, Melville, Coleman; Ball, Hayward, Clark (Davis 77); Riedle, Hayles. Subs (not used): Hahnemann, Symons, Trollope, Lewis.
GOALS: Hayles (18), Riedle (75).
BLACKBURN ROVERS (4-5-1): Kelly; Harkness (Jansen 80), Grayson, Peacock, Short; Flitcroft, Dunn, Frandsen, Gillespie, Duff; Ostendstadt. Subs (not used): Miller, Dailly, Davidson, Johnson.
GOALS: Dunn (38), Gillespie (85).
REFEREE: Mike Jones (Loughborough).