A piece of predatory finishing from Aleksandar Mitrovic ensured Fulham emerged from a tight contest at Blackburn Rovers with three precious points in their push for automatic promotion. The Serbian striker’s 20th goal of the season was enough to inflict Blackburn’s home league defeat since September and helped Scott Parker’s side move level on points with second placed Leeds.
Moments of quality were few and far between at Ewood Park, with Blackburn tough to break down and limited in the final third, whilst Fulham’s possession football looked largely toothless for the first hour. Mitrovic was starved of significant service, but produced a moment of magic to spin away from Toisin Adarabioyo and fire Joe Bryan’s low cross past Christian Walton in the 65th minute.
The visitors could have put the game beyond Blackburn before a frantic finale. Tom Cairney, afforded a warm reception on his return to Ewood Park, was denied a goal by a smart Walton stop at his near post. The goalkeeper did well to smother Stefan Johansen’s late effort at close quarters but the Norwegian should have lifted his finish out of his reach having been played in by Mitrovic.
Those misses meant Blackburn were in the game until the end – and their persistence very nearly paid off. Michael Hector was excellent once again at the heart of the Fulham defence, but his one mistake let in Sam Gallagher. Marek Rodak bailed out the Jamaican international with a fine one-handed stop at his near post. Fulham had an even greater let off later on when Darragh Lenihan crept behind the back four after they failed to clear a set play, but his composed finish was ruled out by an offside flag. Television replays suggested that the decision was incorrect, something which enraged Tony Mowbray.
The fact that there was little between these two sides, even with Rovers missing six first teamers through injury, underlines what a good job Mowbray is doing in trying circumstances. His side restricted Fulham to a pair of half chances in a forgettable half. Walton turned aside a Hector header from a corner before sparing Ryan Nyambe’s blushes after the young defender diverted Bobby Decordova-Reid’s cross towards his own top corner.
Rovers fashioned the game’s first opening – with Gallagher heading onto the roof of the net after Adam Armstrong had embarrassed Bryan – but didn’t really put Fulham under any prolonged pressure until a stirring climax when they slung a succession of high balls into the area. Hector and the returning Tim Ream repelled most of them to earn another excellent clean sheet.
In many ways, this was the perfect professional away performance for Parker. Fulham were functional rather than flashy and their success was underpinned by a grit and spirit that suggests they might have to staying power to seriously threaten the top two. Something which seemed fanciful at Christmas is now within touching distance.
BLACKBURN ROVERS (4-2-3-1): Walton; Nyambe, Bell, Lenihan, Adarabioyo; Travis, Johnson (Graham 72); Rankin-Costello (Samuel 72), Downing, Armstrong (Brereton 89); Gallagher. Subs (not used): Williams, Leutwiler, Davenport, Bennett.
FULHAM (4-3-3): Rodak; Odoi, Bryan, Hector, Ream; McDonald, Onomah (Kongolo 81), Cairney (Johansen 86); Cavaleiro (Kamara 90), Decordova-Reid, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Christie, S. Sessegnon, Knockaert.
GOAL: Mitrovic (65).
REFEREE: Tony Harrington (Cleveland).