Bobby Zamora’s first half brace powered Fulham further clear of the relegation zone as the Whites saw off a spirited challenge from struggling Blackpool at Craven Cottage this afternoon.
The Londoners have badly ,missed their talismanic striker after he broke his leg earlier this summer but Zamora made up for lost time in the space of five first half minutes here to settle this contest before half-time. Mark Hughes’ winter worries about his future in west London appear to be a thing of the past with this victory lifting Fulham into the top half of the Premier League table.
Zamora showed signs of his brilliant best from last season’s staggering run to the Europa League final. The former West Ham forward displayed all of his footballing intelligence to intercept a wayward James Beattie pass and smash home the opener before heading in Damien Duff’s right-wing free-kick five minutes later for his first goals since August, when he also scored against Ian Holloway’s men. Dickson Etuhu added a more resounding look to scoreline with a late tap in to complete Fulham’s fifth home win in six matches.
All the talk before the game was about Mohamed Al-Fayed’s bizarre unveiling of a statue commemorating Michael Jackson at the Hammersmith End, but Fulham were quick out of the blocks themselves. Moussa Dembele looked lively down the left flank and captain Danny Murphy had an early shot blocked. Charlie Adam spurned Blackpool’s clearest opening but his ambitious shot from fully 35 yards nearly seriously looked like testing the Fulham goal.
Fulham rattled the woodwork just after the quarter of an hour. Zamora guided a deep cross from Carlos Salcido back towards Dembele and the Belgian teed up Duff, whose fierce drive was turned onto the frame of the goal by a diving Richard Kingson. The Blackpool goalkeeper then spread himself well to block another powerful effort from Chris Baird.
But the Ghanaian international could do nothing about Zamora’s venomous opener, which arrived after Beattie had dropped deep and tried to spread the play but succeeded only in locating the Fulham forward with a badly misplaced pass. Zamora gleefully latched onto the loose ball and surged away from the Blackpool defence before firing past Kingson with real relish. He doubled his tally just five minutes later, outjumping Craig Cathcart to guide Duff’s precise free-kick home and give Fulham the sort of breathing space they have rarely enjoyed in a frenetic season.
Hughes’ charges sat a bit too deep, however, allowing Blackpool too much space to play some of their own enterprising football. Baird had to clear off the line after Brett Ormerod had beaten Mark Schwarzer to a punt from Alex Baptiste, with the Northern Ireland international doing brilliantly to deny his former Southampton team-mate.
Dembele produced a brilliant bit of skill just before the hour, with his close control and turn creating space twenty yards from goal, but the Belgian’s goalbound drive was bravely blocked by Cathcart. In a period of end-to-end football, veteran striker Beattie nearly brought Blackpool back into it but his driven shot came back off the far post. That was the cue for Holloway to make three attacking changes with Jason Puncheon almost making an immediate impact as Schwarzer scrambled to turn his 20-yard drive wide.
But Fulham exploited the spaces behind the Blackpool defence as the away side chased a lifeline at the other end. They had already had a couple of fortunate escapes before Clint Dempsey rattled the woodwork from a Danny Murphy free-kick and Etuhu prodded home a simple finish from close range. Hughes then introduced Steve Sidwell from the bench for his first Fulham appearance since February as the game petered out with a Jackson impersonator at the Hammersmith End stealing the show.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Baird, Salcido, Hughes, Hangeland; Etuhu, Murphy (Sidwell 77), Dempsey, Duff (Davies 81); Zamora (A. Johnson 62), Dembele. Subs (not used): Stockdale, Kelly, Kakuta, Gudjohnsen.
BOOKED: Hangeland, Murphy.
GOALS: Zamora (23, 28), Etuhu (72).
BLACKPOOL (4-3-3): Kingson; Crainey, Baptiste, Evatt, Cathcart; Adam, Grandin (Puncheon 68), Vaughan; Taylor-Fletcher, Ormerod (Varney 68), Beattie (Kornilenko 68). Subs (not used): Rachubka, Eardley, Southern, Reid.
REFEREE: Stuart Attwell (Dorset).