A sublime strike from skipper from Tom Cairney against his former club set Fulham on their way to their first Championship victory of the season as the Whites beat Blackburn Rovers 2-0 at Craven Cottage this afternoon.
Cairney’s audacious curler from 25 yards gave Scott Parker’s side a half-time lead that Fulham barely merited, given a nervous start and the fact that Blackburn produced a far better display than during their opening day defeat to newly-promoted Charlton. The hosts had their own poor start to rectify following a lamentable reverse at Barnsley and the assured debut of new signing Harry Arter added a bit of bite and mobility to a midfield that had been far too passive at Oakwell.
There still enough signs of sloppiness to frustrate Parker in an error-strewn opening, however. Rovers might have taken the lead inside the first twenty seconds when Bradley Johnson steered an inviting cross from Adam Armstrong wide of Marcus Bettinelli’s goal. The dangerous Bradley Dack had a low drive deflected fractionally wide in a bright Blackburn opening and Arter had to produce a desperate block with Johnson ready to pounce at the back post after a neat move down the right.
The closest Aleksandar Mitrovic, who looked a forlorn figure at the heart of the Fulham attack again in the early stages, got to making an impression was at the wrong end when he skied a clearance over his own crossbar. Fulham threatened in fits and starts with Anthony Knockaert, on his first start for the Cottagers, looking the most likely source of an opportunity as he cut in from the right flank. Toison Adarabioyo blocked his low cross-cum-shot, but the French winger’s energy seemed to lift his team-mates.
Fulham fashioned a pairing of decent chances in the space of two minutes. Mitrovic outmuscled two Blackburn defenders to surge up to the edge of the box, but slashed a shot wide, before Knockaert drove dangerously into the box himself and dragged his own effort wide. Knockaert then had a goalbound shot blocked and Mitrovic’s ambitious overhead kick flew harmlessly wide.
The home side were working up a head of steam but Cairney’s opening strike still came somewhat out of the blue. There appeared little danger as Arter was faced by two defenders 25 yards from goal, but the on-loan Bournemouth midfielder did brilliantly to feed Cairney, who had enough time to pick his spot and beautifully found the top corner with a trademark left-footed effort from range.
Blackburn, to their credit, still pushed forwards before the break. Armstrong’s clever movement was causing some serious problems for a Fulham back four that continues to look frail, with Sam Gallagher flicking a header wide from an Elliott Bennett cross. Tony Mowbray’s men had been more than a match for their hosts in the first half and could justifiably consider themselves unfortunate to be behind.
Parker has continued to ask his side to play out from the back, but the Whites haven’t found their feet in that respect. Wayward passes created problems at Barnsley and Blackburn had clearly been taking notes as Dack pounced on a poor ball to send Armstrong clear, but the forward’s shot flew wide of the far post with Bettinelli stranded.
There were a few defensive jitters at the other end, too. Ivan Cavaleiro looked the favourite to gallop around Christian Walton before Bennett intervened and, shortly afterwards, Arter drilled a sighter wide from the edge of the box. Fulham were getting a bit more joy from their attacks as the second half progressed – with one swift counter-attack culminating in Knockaert curling a left-footed strike fractionally wide as he darted into the box.
Mowbray threw on a couple of forwards in search of a spark and Rovers almost found one when Gallagher did well to drift between Alfie Mawson and Tim Ream but sent a looping header wide. But the visitors’ ambition left more space at the back, something ruthlessly exploited by Joe Bryan’s surging run from left back that finished the contest with nine minutes to play.
Bryan, whose dreadful effort had led to Barnsley’s opening last week, galloped more than 50 yards with the ball at his feet and then had the presence of mind to square for Mitrovic as a retreating Rovers’ defence closed in – leaving the former Newcastle front man a simple finish from close range.
A third would have been exceedingly harsh on Mowbray’s side but Bobby Decordova-Reid really should have marked an encouraging cameo with a debut goal. Bettinelli went route one from a goalkick and Decordova-Reid, a deadline-day arrival from Cardiff City, gambled to reach Mitrovic’s flick but then contrived to shoot wide from eight yards with only Walton to beat.
FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; Odoi, Bryan, Mawson, Ream; Arter, Johansen (Decordova-Reid 62), Cairney; Knockaert (Le Marchand 84), Cavaleiro (Reed 79), Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rodak, Christie, McDonald, Ayite.
GOALS: Cairney (35), Mitrovic (81).
BLACKBURN ROVERS (4-2-3-1): Walton; Bennett, Bell (Downing 71), Adarabioyo, Williams; Johnson, Travis (Graham 74); Rothwell (Brereton 65), Armstrong, Dack; Gallagher. Subs (not used): Leutwiler, Platt, C. Evans, Buckley.
BOOKED: Johnson, Bennett.
REFEREE: Keith Stroud (Bournemouth).