Rather surprisingly it was Sam Allardyce who headed across the pitch to confront referee Anthony Taylor at the final whistle. The man who provoked plenty of mirth during his pre-match press conference by suggesting he was more than qualified to manage Real Madrid was clearly incensed by the official but it was Mark Hughes, on his return to Ewood Park, who had more reason to be disputing Taylor’s decision-making at the end of a see-saw encounter.
In the privacy of the home dressing room afterwards, Allardyce might want to directed some of his oppobrium towards his own players, who seemed to slacken off after battering Fulham during a first half that suggested the Londoners’ travel sickness was destined to continue. Blackburn were far more effective, even if there was nothing in the man that might have had the Bernabeu regulars purring with delight. It was more brawn than brain for Rovers, who settled much quicker and should have been in front through Nikola Kalinic only for the Croatian striker to inexplicably shoot the wrong side of the post after sprinting clear of a shambolic Fulham offside trap.
The visitors rode their luck in defence with Mark Schwarzer, not long back in the first team after a back injury and all that Arsenal transfer speculation, looking shaky between the sticks. Allardyce had clearly hatched a plan to unsettle the experienced Australian goalkeeper and it might have paid dividends long before Chris Samba’s opener was controversially allowed to stand after half an hour. Mortem Gamst Pedersen saw an effort headed off the line by his Norwegian team-mate Brede Hangeland and the impressive Phil Jones had a goalbound attempt blocked as Fulham nearly buckled under the pressure.
When the breakthrough did come, it enraged Hughes and his side. El-Hadj Diouf clearly barged into Schwarzer, making no attempt to play the ball, and presenting Samba with the simplest of tap-ins as the Fulham keeper fell to the ground. Referee Taylor gave the goal but, even if it seemed illegitimate, there was little doubt that Rovers deserved their lead. Fulham played in patches and seemed cowed by Blackburn’s route one football. Too many passes went astray and the visitors barely mustered a first-half chance: only debutant Carlos Salcido succeeded in extending Paul Robinson, who turned his left-footed curler aside just before the break.
Hughes has already had to deliver a couple of stern half-time team-talks to his new charges and Fulham certainly seemed a different side after the break. They began the second half with much more urgency, which delivered an equaliser eleven minutes in. Danny Murphy’s quickly-taken free-kick released Salcido down the left and the Mexican’s cross picked out Clint Dempsey, who headed home emphatically after outjumping Ryan Nelsen.
Blackburn might have restored their lead after Benjani played in his fellow substitute Brett Emerton but the Austrlian midfielder shot disappointing at Schwarzer and the home side lost their impetus as the contest went on. Fulham grew gradually more confident and might have snatched an equaliser in the closing stages. Damien Duff skipped away from a couple of challengers and his dangerous ball across goal eluded everyone before Murphy floated a free-kick agnonisingly wide. American Eddie Johnson almost made another decisive contribution as a late substitute but he narrowly failed to punish some hesitancy from Robinson right at the end.
Given how off-colour Fulham looked in the first period and that they might have crumbled after such a dubious Blackburn goal, Mark Hughes will certainly be happy with the point that preserves his unbeaten start with his new side.
BLACKBURN ROVERS (4-5-1): Robinson; Salgado, Givet, Samba, Nelsen; M.B. Diouf, Jones, Grella, Pedersen (Emerton 61), E.H. Diouf; Kalinic (Benjani 65). Subs (not used): Bunn, Chimbonda, Lingazi, Hoilett.
GOAL: Samba (30).
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Kelly, Salcido, Hughes, Hangeland; Etuhu, Murphy (Gera 89), Duff, Davies; Dempsey (E. Johnson 78), Dembele. Subs (not used): Etheridge, Baird, Pantsil, Greening, Riise.
GOAL: Dempsey (56).
REFEREE: Anthony Taylor (Manchester).