Blackburn were nine games without a win coming into this contest at Ewood Park. Paul Lambert had warned that Rovers risked being sucked into a relegation scrap. They were on the back foot from the outset with Fulham, showing more confidence than in recent weeks after recording Slavisa Jokanovic’s first win at QPR on Saturday, putting a brittle home defence under significant pressure. And then Luke Garbutt, in a moment of absolute madness, lunged in to bring down Ben Marshall inside the area. The Rovers right back dusted himself down, stepped forward to convert the spot-kick and Fulham folded.
Garbutt, offered an opportunity to start this game after replacing the injured Lasse Vigen Christensen at Rangers, was withdrawn by an incensed Jokanovic just after the half hour mark and Fulham’s fortunes nose-dived after the needless concession of a penalty that gave Blackburn a serious shot in the arm. The hosts added two more goals in the second half – headers from Shane Duffy and Danny Graham, who gleefully celebrated his first goal for his new club – to leapfrog the Whites into eighteenth and move eight points clear of the drop.
Fulham, looking forlorn by the end of a chastening evening in the relentless rain, have taken just four points from seven matches and, having harboured ambitions of reigniting a promotion push when sacking Kit Symons, they will now be satisfied with Championship safety. It had started promisingly with Ryan Fredericks posing problems down the right and Michael Madl seeing a volley scrambled off the line from Jamie O’Hara’s corner. The Austrian went even closer from a Ross McCormack flag kick, driving wide from twelve yards when it might have been easier to score.
Garbutt’s ridiculous challenge afforded Rovers, who had barely threatened to that point, the luxury of a lead. Dan Burn then blocked twice as the blue and white shirts flowed forward. The lively Jordi Gomez then missed the target twice from presentable positions and the one-way traffic continued after Alex Kacaniklic was summoned from the bench to replace the on-loan Everton left back. The visitors were fortunate to still be one down at the interval after Chris Brown headed a marvellous Marshall cross straight at Lonergan.
Blackburn bossed the second half as well. O’Hara dived in to deny Elliott Bennett a certain second after Gomez’s deflected effort fell kindly in front of goal before Madl prevented Graham from getting a shot away. The pressure was mounting, and although Kacaniklic fired wide from distance, Fulham’s defence would cave in before long. The defending from a Bennett free kick was shambolic, with Irish international Duffy headed into the roof of the net largely unchallenged. Zakaria Labyad came off the bench for his debut by he looked lost as Fulham went to a 4-4-2 and, by now, Lambert’s lads were playing pretty fluent football.
O’Hara had already tried to gift Graham his first Blackburn goal with a woeful pass across his own penalty area, but the striker headed home three minutes from time to complete a miserable night in wet Lancashire for the Londoners. There’s a lot for the brooding Jokanovic to ponder now.
BLACKBURN ROVERS (4-4-2): Steele; Marshall, Spurr, Hanley, Duffy; Evans, Lenihan, E. Bennett, Gomez (Conway 88); Brown, Graham (Jackson 88). Subs (not used): Raya, Henley, Ward, Grimes.
GOALS: Marshall (pen 15), Duffy (62), Graham (87).
FULHAM (3-5-2): Lonergan; Madl, Burn, Amorebieta (Labyad 69); Fredericks, Garbutt (Kacaniklic 33), Matilla (Ream 57), O’Hara, Cairney; McCormack, Dembele. Subs (not used): Lewis, Richards, Smith.
BOOKED: Matilla, Fredericks, McCormack.
REFEREE: Stephen Martin