The returning Bobby Zamora was the hero as his controversial last-minute penalty secured victory for Fulham in this five-goal thriller against Blackburn Rovers at Craven Cottage.

The England international marked his first league appearance since September by firing home from twelve yards after Grant Hanley had been adjudged to have held back Aaron Hughes inside the area. It looked as Damien Duff had been twice denied winning goals against his former club as Blackburn battled back to equalise through Hanley and Junior Hoilett in an entertaining encounter on the banks of the River Thames.

Steve Kean, seeking to arrest a worrying slide down the table against one of his former employers, made six changes to the team that had been well beaten by Aston Villa last week and professed himself pleased with the spirit shown by his side, although he fundamentally disputed Mark Clattenburg’s contentious penalty call that eventually decided this contest. A fourth defeat in five league fixtures leaves Rovers perilously positioned just above the relegation zone.

But Fulham were also furious with Clattenburg for failing to point to the spot when Christopher Samba slid in to bring down Andy Johnson inside the box just after Duff had given them the lead. It was a shocking decision from an official already under pressure for not dismissing Wayne Rooney last weekend. An entertaining start saw Jason Roberts force an early save from Mark Schwarzer from a tight angle before Duff drilled a rebound from Chris Baird’s free kick well over the bar.

Fulham were making the most of the early running. Johnson was nearly released by a raking through ball from the influential Clint Dempsey and then turned a delicious Duff cross agonisingly wide but the Whites did go in front eight minutes before half time. Dickson Etuhu threaded a ball through to the former Rovers winger, who darted inside Martin Olsson from the right flank, and drove a powerful finish past Paul Robinson.

The hosts were pegged back in stoppage time at the end of the first half when Etuhu was punished for dwelling in possession on the edge of his own box after a Blackburn corner. Hanley won the ball back and went for goal, with his shot deflecting off the head of Brede Hangeland and leaving Mark Schwarzer with no chance. Samba almost restored Fulham’s lead right at the start of the second half when he headed against his own crossbar before Baird cleared off the line from Jermaine Jones at the other end.

Dempsey was denied by a last-ditch clearance from Michel Salgado after a real scramble in the Blackburn area before a lovely move saw the Whites retake the lead just before the half hour. It came courtesy of a fine one-two between Moussa Dembele and Johnson that teed up Duff, whose precise shot from eighteen yards went between the legs of Samba to leave Robinson unsighted. But Fulham’s lead lasted just seven minutes as Hoilett punished poor defending to head home Roberts’ cross at the back post.

Suddenly, it was the visitors who looked the more likely winners. Jones should have scored when given far too much time to pull the trigger inside the Fulham area but shot wide. Fulham roused themselves for an assault on the Rovers goal in the last ten minutes, with Duff blowing his chances of a hat trick when a heavy touch wasted wonderful approach play from Zamora. Robinson produced a magnificent save to thwart Johnson and the Hammersmith End was furious when Clattenburg waved play on after Hanley appeared to have fouled the former Crystal Palace forward.

He did point to the spot after what looked a much more debatable foul on Hughes from Hanley following a Fulham corner and Zamora gleefully fired home his first goal since last February to settle a see-saw encounter. Blackburn’s anger was summed up by Gael Givet being shown a red card after the final whistle for remonstrating with Clattenburg.

FULHAM (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer; Baird, Salcido, Hughes, Hangeland; Etuhu, Murphy (Zamora 70), Duff, Dempsey; Dembele (Kakuta 78); A. Johnson. Subs (not used): Stockdale, Kelly, Greening, Davies, Gudjohnsen.

BOOKED: Etuhu, Baird.

GOALS: Duff (37, 59), Zamora (pen 89).

BLACKBURN ROVERS (4-4-2): Robinson; Salgado (Emerton 90+3), Givet (Pederson 76), Hanley, Samba; Jones, Nzonzi, Hoilett (Rochina 81), Olsson; Roberts, Diouf.

BOOKED: Roberts, Hanley.

SENT OFF: Givet (90).

GOALS: Hanley (45+2), Hoilett (65).

REFEREE: Mark Clattenburg (Tyne and Wear).