It’s probably to much of a cliche to use the word rollercoaster in connection with Blackpool’s first top flight home game in 39 years but an absorbing encounter at Bloomfield Road had more twists and turns than any ferris wheel you’ll find down at the Pleasure Beach. Three disallowed goals were just the early appetiser as Fulham folded in the face of a superb second half showing from Ian Holloway’s side only for Dickson Etuhu to salvage a point with a magnificent chip three minutes from time.
The ease with which Fulham lost both their shape and conviction once first-half goalscorer Bobby Zamora limped off with a thigh strain will have alarmed Mark Hughes. Fabio Capello, watching on from the stands, might have had cause for concern too as he prepares to name his squad for the first couple of Euro 2012 qualifiers, especially after Zamora had headed the Whites in front ten minutes before half-time. Moussa Dembele, who looked virtually unplayable on his full league debut, sped away down the right and produced the perfect cross for Zamora to head home the opener.
Once Fulham’s talisman had departed, however, the visitors lost any semblance of control. Their defence had already been pulled apart by Holloway’s bold ploy of starting with three strikers. Veteran Brett Ormerod thought he’d given the home side a dream start with an early header, but the ex-Southampton striker, included in place of the injured Marlon Harewood, was correctly flagged offside. Luke Varney, handed a debut just a day after joining on loan from Derby, posed plenty of problems for the haplessly inept John Pantsil and immediately tested David Stockdale with a fierce volley.
Holloway was furious with referee Michael Oliver’s decision to disallow a Blackpool equaliser after Varney had collided with David Stockdale, who is tipped to make Capello’s squad tomorrow, and Elliot Grandin rolled in the loose ball. But, in a mad five minutes, all that was forgotten. Pantsil inexplicably surrended possession with a sloppy square ball across his own penalty area and, just as the danger seemed to have abated following Varney’s speculative cross-shot, he then contrived to slice a clearance into his own net.
That might have passed for cheap comedy, but worse was to follow. Blackpool, who commendably never let their heads drop whilst Fulham were in front, sensed an opportunity to snare a historic victory. Urged forward by Holloway and most of the 15,529 crowd, Blackpool went in search of a second. Charlie Adam drew a fine save from Stockdale and Hughes’ side looked rattled. They certainly had cause to be. Moments later, Ormered slipped an inviting pass through a horribly square defence and Varney, played onside by Pantsil, found the far corner with a cool finish.
Just as it seemed as though Blackpool might hold on, up popped Dembele. The Belgian, who seems a snip at £5m from AZ Alkmaar, spotted Etuhu darting forward as he had done to great effect against Manchester United last week. If Dembele’s through ball was good, the Nigerian’s finish was even better – a sublime chip over Michael Gilks that seasoned strikers would have been proud of. Both sides had chances to win it during stoppage time but ultimately had to settle for a point that probably won’t satisfy either manager.
One thing’s for sure – life under Hughes will be far from dull.
BLACKPOOL (4-3-3): Gilks; Crainey, Evatt (Eardley 65), Baptiste, Cathcart; Vaughan, Grandin, Adam; Taylor-Fletcher, Ormerod, Varney. Subs (not used): Halstead, Keinan, Basham, Euell, Sylvestre, Demontagnac.
GOALS: Pantsil (og 71), Varney (76).
FULHAM (4-4-1-1): Stockdale; Pantsil, Kelly, Hughes, Hangeland; Etuhu, Murphy (Gera 80), Duff (Greening 85), Davies; Dembele; Zamora (Dempsey 59). Subs: Zuberbuhler, Baird, Briggs, Riise.
GOALS: Zamora (35), Etuhu (87).
REFEREE: Michael Oliver (Newcastle-upon-Tyne).