Two goals in the space of ten first half minutes from Neeskens Kebano and Harry Wilson secured a comfortable win over Blackburn Rovers for Fulham, who extended their advantage at the top of the Championship to a commanding eleven points. This fixture was closer than the demolition job at Ewood Park that saw Marco Silva’s side score seven without reply in Blackburn’s worst-ever home defeat, but Marco Silva’s men were never seriously troubled once they had established clear water between the sides.
Silva had been at pains to point out that neither promotion or the title had been secured following last weekend’s narrow win at Cardiff City, contrary to the pronouncements of the pundits. ‘Nothing is won in February,’ was his message. Fulham have been adept at focusing merely on their next challenge throughout a season that has seen them set a furious pace in seeking an immediate exit from the second tier. They have been helped by Aleksandar Mitrovic’s extraordinary exploits in front of goal but the Serbian showcased the selfless playmaking ability that Scott Parker overlooked last season, dropping deep to utterly befuddle Blackburn’s three centre halves. The number nine’s movement created the space for Fulham’s wingers to flourish – to devastating effect.
After the home side had a scare when allowing Ryan Giles to travel almost half the length of the field with the ball before the winger lashed over, Fulham’s patient passing pressed Rovers back. Tony Mowbray was disappointed with a lack of intensity in his team’s pressing, although Silva’s early opprobrium was saved referee for referee David Webb who waved away penalty appeals from Mitrovic and Neco Williams. Mitrovic glanced a header wide from a Williams cross – and Blackburn’s early nerves only increased when Deyovaisio Zeefuik was forced off with a calf injury after sixteen minutes.
Worse was to come for the visitors when the usually dependable Thomas Kaminski could only pat a speculative shot from Williams straight out in front of him. Kebano reacted quicker than any of the static Blackburn defenders to snaffle his ninth goal of the campaign from the rebound. The Belgian goalkeeper’s poor handling was not the only error in the lead-up to the goal, with Dutch defender Jan Paul van Hecke, who had been left for dead by Mitrovic in the build up, electing to head a ball straight to Harrison Reed rather than concede a corner.
Rovers offered a fleeting glimpse of their attacking threat without their injured talisman Ben Brereton-Diaz when Rheda Kedra created half a yard of space for himself in the area only for Marek Rodak to gather his low cross-cum-shot. They still looked jittery at the back, with van Hecke surrendering possession to Mitrovic, who drew a sprawling save from Kaminski. Referee Webb then cautioned Tyrhys Dolan for simulation before Fulham’s belief in playing out from the back doubled their lead.
In truth, it was far too easy for former Blackburn centre back Tosin Adarabioyo to unlock the visitors’ defence with a low ball out to the right flank. It was weighted perfectly for Wilson, played on by Harry Pickering, to race in goal and deliciously dink a finish over the onrushing Kaminski. The Welsh international’s outstanding season at Craven Cottage has seen him add twelve assists to his nine goals – and there can be little doubting that he is suited to plying his trade in the top flight.
Mowbray made an alteration at the break with Sam Gallagher sent on for Khadra and the former Southampton striker gave the visitors much more of a focal point in the final third. Rovers were much more ambitious in their play, but Fulham still created the clearer chances at the start of the second period. Fabio Carvalho was unfortunate not to make it three when his curling shot was deflected onto the near post after linking up well with Antonee Robinson along the left flank, before Mitrovic headed the sort of chance you’d expect him to bury wide at the far post from a corner.
Blackburn thought they had found a route back into the contest midway through the second half when Gallagher bundled in from close range after Rodak had superbly clawed out a header from Bradley Johnson, but a consultation between the officials saw the goal ruled out for offside against Johnson. The flag was ridiculously late but television replays appeared to confirm that the Blackburn midfielder had strayed beyond Fulham’s high line. Rodak was in action again, decisively punching away a Giles cross, before spreading himself at his near post to prevent the winger from converting Scott Wharton’s crossfield ball.
Fulham kept searching for a third with Wilson going close with two efforts from outside the box before Williams came close to breaking his club goalscoring duck with an audacious effort from fully 60 yards. Spotting Kaminski well off his line just inside the Blackburn half, the Welsh full back measured his lob magnificently but was cruelly denied by the crossbar. The Blackburn goalkeeper then did well to deny Wilson from a free-kick, but the Welshman had already underlined Fulham’s superiority before half time.
The Londoners’ lead at the top of the table could be cut by Parker’s Bournemouth, who travel to Preston this afternoon, but they are inching ever closer to an instant return to the top flight. Soon Silva will have to ponder how his side might be able to survive at English football’s top table, but the Portuguese head coach won’t be counting any chickens just yet. His side do their talking on the pitch and they are becoming ruthlessly efficient.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Williams (Tete 85), A. Robinson, Adarabioyo, Ream; Reed, Seri (Chalobah 80); Wilson, Kebano (Decordova-Reid 85), Carvalho; Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Gazzaniga, Hector, Cavaleiro, Muniz.
BOOKED: Williams, Ream.
GOALS: Kebano (25), Wilson (35).
BLACKBURN ROVERS (3-4-3): Kaminski; Wharton, van Hecke, Lenihan; Zeefuik (Rankin-Costello 17), Pickering, Johnson, Travis; Giles, Khadra (Gallagher 45), Dolan (Rothwell 66). Subs (not used): Pears, Davenport, Buckley, Hedges.
BOOKED: Dolan, Lenihan.
REFEREE: David Webb (Lancashire).