Lawrie Sanchez professed himself happy with the application of his side at Anfield last week, reasoning that it was a good sign they could stay with a team with as much quality as Liverpool for 80 minutes. You sense he would have earmarked this home game against Blackburn as an ideal opportunity for three points. Despite leading twice and dominating a lively second half, the best they could come up with was a draw, conceding again in the closing stages as a testing relegation battle looms.
Sanchez altered his starting eleven from the one that had so admirably restricted Liverpool. Out went Shefi Kuqi – presumably on mobility grounds – and in came Clint Dempsey. Diomansy Kamara also got a rare start, replacing David Healy. Mark Hughes’ tactical plans were left in tatters after just two minutes. A crude challenge from Dejan Stefanovic, who doesn’t look the sort of defender who will improve Fulham’s leaky backline, left Benni McCarthy, Blackburn’s lone striker, in a crumbled him. The South African was carried off with an unspecified knee injury and on came the imposing Jason Roberts.
The first half was a tedious, drama-free, sedate area. Stefanovic did his best to enliven proceedings getting involved in several spats with David Bentley, who was booked for throwing himself theatrically to ground in a shamelessn attempt to win a penalty. The former Arsenal midfielder was closest to reach a dangerous low cross from the lively Stephen Warnock, who was to have a big say in the end result later, while Brad Friedel pawed away a venomous strike from Kamara.
All the tedium vanished in the blink of an eye at the start of the second half. New Zealand skipper Ryan Nelsen clumsily brought down Kamara and Mike Dean had no real option but to award the penalty, expertly converted by Danny Murphy. Fulham weren’t ahead for long though. Roberts, a London lad, flicked on a dangerous cross from Warnock and the Australian Brett Emerton drilled a shot into the corner. Sanchez had two grounds for complaint. The Fulham manager was still enraged by Dean’s earlier decision not to give a second spot-kick for a clear handball at Andre Oojer, whilst the Blackburn equaliser looked suspiciously offside. The goal stood and Sanchez’s anger grew.
Hughes was soon bitter too as the flag stayed down at the other end and Fulham profited. Murphy, a clever presence and a hard grafter in Fulham’s midfield, found Simon Davies and, when the Welshman sent the ball in, Kamara was perfectly position to steer home a second. Hughes complained that ‘in days gone by, it’s a stonewall offside’ and he probably had a point.
All wasn’t lost for Blackburn, especially as Fulham have proven so incapable of clinging onto leads this season. Warnock made it thirteen points the Whites have lost from winning positions this term when Roberts managed to free himself from the attentions of both Stefanovic and Paul Konchesky before squaring the ball to his full back. Niemi had made some splendid saves in a bid to keep Blackburn out, but could do nothing to prevent the unmarked Warnock, lurking at the back post, from earning Rovers a point. It was a familiar story for Fulham.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Niemi; Baird, Konchesky, Hughes, Stefanovic; Davis, Murphy (Healy 83), Davies, Bouazza (Kuqi 67); Dempsey, Kamara (Seol 83). Subs (not used): Warner, Bocanegra.
BOOKED: Murphy, Stefanovic.
GOALS: Murphy (pen 51), Kamara (63).
BLACKBURN ROVERS (4-5-1): Friedel; Oojer, Warnock, Nelsen, Samba; Mokoena (Reid 89), Tugay, Emerton, Pedersen, Bentley; McCarthy (Roberts 8). Subs (not used): Brown, Khizanishvili, Savage.
GOALS: Emerton (57), Warnock (79).
REFEREE: Mike Dean (Wirral).