After all the optimism oozing around Craven Cottage lately, this was a hell of a way for Fulham to fall back to earth. Just when it looked like Cyriac’s first goal for the club would snatch a valuable three points when the Whites were well below the supreme standards set at St. James’ Park, Lucas Joao popped up deep into stoppage time to lift battling Blackburn out of the Championship’s bottom three.
The late drama extended Tony Mowbray’s unbeaten run to some six matches since taking over at Ewood Park and was no more than Rovers deserved for a performance full of grit and determination – as well as no little quality. Craig Conway’s penalty had brought the visitors level for the first time and, after Cyriac’s glorious volley from Ryan Frederick’s cross, Joao turned in a ball from Derrick Williams’ to stun the home fans and earn injury-hit Blackburn a share of the spoils.
Whereas Slavisa Jokanovic merely tinkered with the team that had destroyed leaders Newcastle at the weekend, with Fredericks returning at right back in place of Denis Odoi, Mowbray lost the services of Charlie Mulgrew and Sam Gallagher after the pair failed late fitness tests. Fulham, full of confidence after their sensational success on Tyneside, attacked from the off with Ryan Sessegnon – whose quietening of the Gallowgate End will surely become iconic – drifting into dangerous positions from the left once again.
Sone Aluko spurned the best early openings for the hosts. The former Hull City forward saw an effort deflected wide after latching onto a flick on from Tim Ream and the visiting defence looked particularly fragile, as seen when Darragh Lenihan sliced behind under absolutely no pressure. From the ensuing corner, Tom Cairney almost scored against his former club – as he did to settle the reverse fixture at Ewood Park – but the Scottish international fizzed a first-time effort over the bar.
For all their possession, Fulham looked largely toothless in attack so the opening goal arriving just before half-time was a relief. It came from a flowing move with Cairney locating Johansen in acres of space along the left flank and Aluko, who had made plenty of ground in running off the opposite wing, blasted home the Norwegian’s precise cross to settle a few nerves.
But Blackburn were the more progressive side after the interval with a free-kick from Elliott Bennett dropping fractionally wide and the winger stung the palms of David Button when cutting in the wing. Fulham gradually recovered from their slumber, with Johansen’s follow-up to his own free-kick narrowly missing the far corner and Sessegnon seeing a snapshot palmed clear by Steele.
Blackburn, boosted by the introduction of Joao – who had tested Button with a header, drew level from twelve yards when Tomas Kalas took out Marvin Emnes as the Dutchman looked to turn in the area. Conway crashed the penalty straight down the middle – setting up an end-to-end finish. Johansen’s last act before being replaced by Cyriac was to volley wide from a Martin flick on, before the on-loan striker took centre stage.
The Ivorian – yet to start a game for the Cottagers – had only been on the field for three minutes when he fired a faboulous finish between Steele and his near post despite Fredericks’ cross dropping just behind his starting position. That the full back had the energy to burst away from Williams and latch onto a pass from Aluko after covering so much ground all the evening was astonishing. But Fulham’s joy was shortlived. In the fourth minute of stoppage time, Williams raced into space along the Blackburn left and Joao diverted his ball home to send Fulham crashing out of the play-off positions.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Button; Fredericks, Malone (Martin 61), Kalas, Ream; McDonald, Johansen (Cyriac 81); Kebano (Odoi 87), R. Sessegnon, Cairney; Aluko. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Madl, Sigurdsson, Petsos.
BOOKED: Fredericks, McDonald.
GOALS: Aluko (45), Cyriac (86).
BLACKBURN ROVERS (4-4-2): Steele; Nyambe, Williams, Leninhan, Hoban; Lowe, Guthrie, E. Bennett (Mahoney 69), Conway; Graham (Joao 60), Emnes. Subs (not used): Raya, Brown, Feeney, Akpan, Tomlinson.
BOOKED: Guthrie, Leninhan, Emnes.
GOALS: Conway (pen 79), Joao (90+4).
REFEREE: Andy Davies (Hampshire).