Fulham inched a little closer to safety after a tense draw with Blackburn Rovers at Craven Cottage. Vincenzo Montella put the Londoners ahead after being recalled to the starting line-up but Benni McCarthy equalised and Mark Hughes was left scratching his head after Rovers completely dominated the second half but failed to find a winner.
Montella, included at the expense of Heidar Helguson, stabbed the strugglers ahead from a corner that was flicked on by Papa Bouba Diop. That represented the perfect start for Sanchez but his side came under unrelenting pressure from Blackburn, who badly need the three points to keep their feint UEFA Cup hopes alive. Liam Rosenior nearly put a David Bentley cross past his own goalkeeper and Jason Roberts drove wide, before a storming second half spell saw McCarthy crash an effort against the crossbar and eventually equalise following a fine run from full back Stephen Warnock.
The point lifts Fulham above Wigan Athletic and the Whites are three points clear of the relegation zone with three games to play. Montella made the most of his recall by being in the right place at the right time to turn in Simon Davies’ corner – even if Italian’s miscued finish was somewhat fortune as the ball flew in off his knee. Blackburn responded with a fine free-kick from Morten Gamst Pedersen, who drew an excellent save from Niemi. Rosenior then nodded against his own post from six yards as he strained to clear Bentley’s cross and Zat Knight cleared off the line from Roberts.
Fulham’s forays forward were rare but Brad Friedel did brilliantly to keep out Michael Brown’s backheel as the midfielder almost turned Papa Bouba Diop’s wayward shot past the experienced American goalkeeper. The pattern of a nervy affair continued after half time with Fulham clinging on to their slender advantage as Blackburn chased an equaliser. McCarthy hit the bar from 20 yards and Niemi somehow denied Pedersen twice from the follow-up. Chris Samba blazed over when left unattended from a corner and Aaron Mokoena’s deflected effort dropped agonisingly over the crossbar, but Rovers were not to be denied.
Warnock sauntered down the left flank, carrying the ball brilliantly past two defenders, and produced a precise cross for McCarthy to slot home from six yards out. The South African thought he’d grabbed another six minutes later but that goal was correctly chalked off for offside. In a gripping finale, both Pedersen and McCarthy went close for Rovers but the hosts might have snatched all three points as Brown skewed a shot over after a lightning break led by Wayne Routledge and Knight sent a header flashing wide in stoppage time.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Niemi; Rosenior, Bocanegra, Knight, Christanval (Volz 76); Brown, Diop, Davies, Radzinski (Dempsey 83); Montella (Routledge 72), McBride. Subs (not used): Lastuvka, Helguson.
GOAL: Montella (10).
BLACKBURN ROVERS (4-4-2): Friedel; Emerton, Samba, Nelsen, Warnock; Bentley, Mokoena, Dunn, Pedersen; Roberts, McCarthy. Subs (not used): Brown, Khizanishvili, Tugay, Gallagher, Derbyshire.
GOAL: McCarthy (61).
REFEREE: Graham Poll (Hertfordshire).