Gary Bowyer called for the introduction of goal-line technology in the lower leagues after this game – and the Blackburn manager was fully justified to air his frustrations given the way in which his side were cruelly denied a point when Grant Hanley’s effort clearly crossed the line before being cleared by Jamie O’Hara. He will also have wondered how Rovers were behind at that point after dominating the second period so comprehensively that Andy Lonergan in the Fulham goal was quite clearly the man of the match.
Fulham clung on for dear life to the three points that lifted them into the top half of the table for the first time this season, but Kit Symons will want his team to replicate the blistering twenty minutes with which they started the contest instead of its nerve-shredding climax. The home side lost their way well before an uncharacteristically prolifigate Jordan Rhodes converted a second half penalty, with both O’Hara and the previously excellent Ryan Tunnicliffe tiring noticeably in the final quarter. But, considering just how long Symons had to wait for a first league win, he will be more than happy to console himself with three points.
The hosts were rewarded for their energy and endeavour that threatened to blow Rovers away at the beginning. The pace and power of Moussa Dembele, finally getting a run in the side after Matt Smith’s unfortunate injury at Hull, unsettled Hanley and allowed him to reach a penetrative pass from Tunnicliffe. The French forward showed plenty of poise as he bore down on goal, too, impressively cutting the ball back for Ross McCormack to steer home from ten yards out. That was the Scottish striker’s fourth goal in three matches following a barren run at the start of the campaign and he seemed in the mood to add to his tally – seeing a shot smartly saved by Jason Steele at the near post and driving another attempt just wide.
McCormack turned provider for Fulham’s second, drifting out to the left wing and sending over a deep cross that Tunnicliffe emphatically met with a diving header. Steele saved that brilliantly and somehow got himself off the floor to prevent Tom Cairney scoring against his former employers, but could do nothing about Dembele’s follow-up, which sent the loose ball soaring high into the roof of the net. That the hosts enjoyed a two-goal cushion at the break was largely down to Lonergan, though, who spread himself superbly to thwart Nathan Delfouneso as he sped through on goal and also kept out a shot from Corry Evans. Lonergan’s best save, however, was a truly fantastic one-handed effort to claw out Ben Marshall’s header from behind him just before half-time.
Bowyer clearly told his players to keep pressing after the break and Fulham’s uncertainty at the back – despite the inclusion of deadline day arrival Richard Stearman – shows no signs of having been banished. On another day, Rhodes would have ended his goalscoring drought with a glut of goals, but he had to settle for the penalty, awarded for James Husband’s clumsy foul at the back post. The Scottish striker made lighter work of that task that when he somehow contrived to hit the post, sliding in to connect with Marshall’s cross from three yards out, and also wasted two free headers, sending one in the rows of empty seats at the Putney End and heading another straight at Lonergan.
Rovers laid siege to the Fulham goal in the final ten minutes but, for once, fortune was with the Cottagers. Referee Tony Harrington waved play on after the pinball in the penalty area that saw Jazz Richards clear Shane Duffy’s header off the line, but Henley’s instinctive effort was well over the line when O’Hara hooked it clear. There was still time for the effective substitute Bengaly-Fode Koita to strike the post from close range – and the relief was tangible when Harrington’s whistle ended five agonising minutes of stoppage time.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Lonergan; Richards, Husband (Burn 90), Stearman, Ream; O’Hara, Tunnicliffe, Cairney, Pringle (Fredericks 62); McCormack, Dembele. Subs (not used): Lewis, Mattila, Christensen, Kacaniklic, Woodrow.
GOALS: McCormack (4), Dembele (19).
BLACKBURN ROVERS (4-4-2): Steele; Duffy, Spurr, Henley, Hanley; Guthrie, Evans (Akpan 83), Marshall, Conway (Lawrence 90); Delfouneso (Koita 45), Rhodes. Subs (not used): Raya, Williamson, Kilgallon, Olsson.
BOOKED: Rhodes, Hanley, Koita, Duffy.
GOAL: Rhodes (pen 68).
REFEREE: Tony Harrington (Durham).