Blackburn halted their alarming slide down the Premiership table by winning an astonishing seven-goal thriller against Fulham at Loftus Road tonight.
Rovers, who had lost their last three matches, twice surrendered the lead in Shepherd’s Bush before holding on in spite of a ferocious late Fulham really after Jon Stead put the them 4-3 in front with fifteen minutes to play. Graeme Souness hailed his side’s ‘battling’ qualities afterwards and insisted this rollercoaster victory will give his charges the confidence to pull away from the relegation dogfight.
The Lacastrians made the stronger start with Lorenzo Amoruso lashing a free-kick fractionally over from fully 35 yards and hit the front when an outrageous long-range pass from Tugay released Andy Cole. The former England forward controlled the bouncing ball superbly and lashed an unstoppable finish past Edwin van der Sar. But their defensive frailties were laid bare within three minutes when Martin Djetou struck the bar with a powerful shot, Steed Malbranque kept the danger alive and teenage striker Collins John bundled the ball home on his first start for the club.
Fulham were on the front foot all of sudden. Malbranque drew a sprawling save from Brad Friedel and the experienced American goalkeeper twice denied Zat Knight as Blackburn came under sustained period. Rovers caved in on the stroke of half-time when John completed his second double in the space of three days when he brilliantly volleyed Malbranque’s free-kick into the bottokm corner to put Fulham in front.
This scarcely believable game took another twist just three minutes after half time. Blackburn, buoyed by Souness’ stirring teamtalk, brought themselves level when Jon Douglas latched onto a long throw from Tugay to volley home his first Rovers goal from eight yards. Two minutes later, the away side were ahead. Amoruso swerved a pacey free-kick around a baffled van der Sar from at least 30 yards – and Fulham were rocking. They could have been further behind had the Dutch goalkeeper not flung himself in front of Stead’s snapshot.
There was hardly time to draw breath as Fulham went up the other end and levelled the contest after a sweeping 70-yard move. Djetou snapped in to break up a Blackburn attack and the loose ball broke to Boa Morte well inside his own half. The Portuguese winger burst forward, playing a precise one-two at pace with John, and drove past three defenders before beating Friedel with a low finish from just inside the area. Belief was back with Fulham now – and John spurned a chance to complete an improbable hat-trick when he blazed wide after being played in by Malbranque.
Just when it looked like Fulham were revving up for a frenzied assault on the Blackburn goal, it was Souness’s side who went in front for a third time. van der Sar was culpable for this goal – Stead getting a little fortunate to see his one-two with Cole deflect back into his path, before his speculative drive from outside the box snuck under the Fulham keeper’s body.
Fulham raised themselves in a desperate attempt to rescue a point. John lashed a long-range effort high into the Loft before Moritz Volz fired a 20-yarder that stung Friedel’s palms and Blackburn hung on to claim three precious points at the end of a pulsating encounter. This valuable victory lifts Rovers above Portsmouth and establishes a three-point cushion between themselves and eighteenth-placed Leeds.
FULHAM (4-3-3): van der Sar; Volz, Bocanegra, Goma, Knight; Legwinski, Djetou, Davis (Petta 78); Malbranque (McBride 84), Boa Morte, John (Hayles 87). Subs (not used): Crossley, Pearce.
GOALS: John (26, 45), Boa Morte (60).
BLACKBURN ROVERS (4-4-2): Friedel; Neill, Gresko, Amoruso, Short; Tugay, Flitcroft, Douglas, Andresen; Cole (Emerton 89), Stead (Gallagher 90). Subs (not used): Enckelman, Johansson, Reid.
GOALS: Cole (23), Douglas (49), Amoruso (51), Stead (75).
REFEREE: Mike Dean (Wirral).