There was no end to Fulham’s dismal away run at Ewood Park this afternoon. Fulham hadn’t won on the road since they beat Portsmouth on the opening day and that triumph doesn’t seem half as impressive given the turmoil engulfing the south coast club. Blackburn were on a barren run of eleven league games without a win. Something had to give and, predictably enough, it was Fulham’s defence. Some more dire defending and two particularly soft goals that will annoy the perfectionist in Roy Hodgson gave Sam Allardyce a timely win.
Fulham didn’t actually start all that badly. Missing the physical presence of Bobby Zamora to unsettle the Blackburn defence, Hodgson went with Andy Johnson and Clint Dempsey up front. The American had the game’s first effort of note, glancing a Stephen Kelly cross at Paul Robinson in the Rovers goal and Hodgson’s mood won’t have improved when Dempsey, Fulham’s most effective player on a forgettable afternoon, went off injured in the second half.
Twenty four minutes had ticked by before Benni McCarthy, reportedly a transfer target for Fulham earlier in the season, found some space just outside the box and crashed a shot towards goal. Mark Schwarzer did well to turn the South African’s drive aside, but worse was to come from the corner. Fulham got themselves into a terrible mess at the set piece with Damien Duff’s attempted clearance bouncing off his captain Danny Murphy and rebounding kindly for Christopher Samba to poke in the opening goal.
The goal did seem to galvanise Fulham. Dempsey was terribly unfortunate not to equalise with a stunning overhead kick that crashed against the crossbar, but that rather summed up the futility of Fulham’s trip to Lancashire. Dempsey displayed the quick feet that will pose such a threat to England in Rustenberg come June when he turned smartly away from his marker and brought a smart save from Robinson with a low shot from 12 yards out.
Duff, desperate to make amends for his earlier mistake against one of his former clubs, swerved a threatening shot towards goal which Robinson also did well to gather. Fulham were creating far more than their hosts but lacked that clinical touch in front of goal to restore parity. They might have gone behind just before the break when Martin Olsson’s ambitious effort from the edge of the box was well saved by Schwarzer.
Any hope Fulham’s travelling fans had of a second half comeback looked to be extinguished nine minutes after the break when the New Zealand captain Ryan Nelsen headed home a second. Again, the lively McCarthy was involved, this time delivering a dangerous free-kick. Kelly lost Nelsen and the defender was able to find the necessary space at the near post to plant a header past Schwarzer.
Dempsey then went off injured and was taken to hospital for a scan on a knee injury. Paul Konchesky’s longstanding ankle problem flared up again, causing his withdrawal at half-time, and those developments look set to test Hodgson’s squad once again. To their credit, his team didn’t stop playing. Robinson produced another good save to thwart Zoltan Gera’s effort and the visitors were angry not to have been awarded a penalty late on when substitute Erik Nevland was pulled back by Samba as the Norwegian ran through on goal.
BLACKBURN ROVERS (4-4-2): Robinson; Chimbonda, Givet (Hoillet 59), Nelsen, Samba; Reid (Andrews 70), N’Zonzi, Emerton, Olsson; McCarthy, Kalinic. Subs (not used): Brown, Salgado, Dunn, Andrews, Rigters, Di Santo.
GOALS: Samba (25), Nelsen (54).
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Kelly, Konchesky (Kallio 45), Hughes, Hangeland; Baird, Murphy, Duff, Gera; A. Johnson, Dempsey (Nevland 62). Subs (not used): Zuberbuhler, Smalling, Dikgacoi, Greening, Riise.
REFEREE: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire).