Fulham took a huge step towards Championship survival with a 1-0 win over already-relegated Blackpool at Bloomfield Road thanks to Matt Smith’s early goal.
Smith’s eighth-minute header was enough to secure the win, which put Fulham nine points clear of third-bottom Millwall. The Lions have three games left, but the Cottagers have a superior goal difference.
Blackpool are now without a win in their last 16 games and still require one point to equal the lowest tally ever posted since the second tier became 24 teams in 1988.
The hosts went close to making the breakthrough after just four minutes when Gary Madine slipped Henry Cameron clean through on goal, but the midfielder’s effort from 18 yards came back off the post.
Less than a minute later, Cameron was in behind the Fulham defence again but was denied from similar range by the fingertips of Marcus Bettinelli.
But, in the manner typical of Blackpool’s season, it was Fulham who opened the scoring in the eighth minute when Sean Kavanagh’s cross from the left was nodded into the bottom-left corner by Smith from 12 yards. The tall forward had the chance to double the visitors’ lead in the 14th minute, but lashed over from 12 yards after gathering Ross McCormack’s right-wing cross.
Fulham continued to pressurise the leakiest defence in the Football League and big striker Smith was almost on target again in the 17th minute, but sent his header wide when six yards out from a corner.
Blackpool could have drawn level after 22 minutes when Jamie O’Hara’s corner evaded Bettinelli, but it was nodded wide by the flying Jose Cubero.
Fulham were dealt an injury blow early in the second half when influential striker Smith was forced off.
O’Hara then went close with a dipping left-footed strike from 18 yards in the 52nd minute, but it clipped the top of the net on its way over.
Two minutes later it was Fulham threatening to find the net, but unmarked substitute Cauley Woodrow headed McCormack’s free-kick high over the bar from 12 yards.
And the visitors looked certain to score in the 57th minute but Kavanagh’s low cross from the left somehow evaded Woodrow who was just three yards out with the goal gaping.
Fulham threatened down the left side again after 69 minutes but James Husband’s low cross was behind McCormack with the striker waiting, unmarked, six yards out.
Blackpool substitute Nathan Delfouneso went within inches of equalising after 76 minutes when he beat Bettinelli to the ball, but his effort across goal was hooked off the line by Ashley Richards.
The Cottagers looked to secure the win on the counter-attack in the 80th minute, but McCormack’s strike from 20 yards was straight at Elliot Parish.
Madine almost grabbed a late equaliser but his dipping strike from 20 yards was superbly tipped around the post by Bettinelli.
Blackpool: Parish, Barkhuizen (Maher 61), Clarke, O’Dea, Dunne, Cubero, Perkins (Delfouneso 73), Orlandi (Telford 68), O’Hara, Cameron, Madine.
Subs Not Used: Oliver, Ferguson, Boney, Samuel.
Fulham: Bettinelli, Richards, Turner, Burn, Husband, Hoogland, Tunnicliffe, Guthrie, Kavanagh, Smith (Woodrow 50), McCormack.
Subs Not Used: Kiraly, Hutchinson, Ruiz, Fofana, Rodallega, Grimmer.
Goal: Smith 8 (header from the centre of the box to the bottom right corner. Assisted by Sean Kavanagh with a cross.)
Booked: Turner (28,f), Hoogland (78,f).
Ref: Eddie IIderton (Tyne & Wear).
Kit Symons admitted it was the worst performance since he took charge after Fulham were held by basement-boys Blackpool.
Goals from Scott Parker and Bryan Ruiz rescued a point for the Cottagers against the struggling Seasiders, who blew a 2-0 lead after skipper Tony McMahon’s red card.
Fulham dominated the second-half but were unable to find a winner as Lee Clark’s side held on for a deserved draw.
Symons said: “The first-half was as poor as we’ve played since I took over. The defending for the goals was poor to say the least and we didn’t pass the ball with any tempo.
“The sending-off changed the game. Second-half we were on the front foot and threw the kitchen sink at them. We have enough quality to be converting those chances. It’s two points dropped.”
Fulham have leaked 10 goals in their last three outings and Symons knows they have to shore up a leaky defence to climb the table.
He added: “It’s something we want to address and cut down. As a former centre-half and a manager you certainly wouldn’t be pleased.”
Fulham fought back from 2-0 down to deny former midfielder Lee Clark a first win as Blackpool manager as both sides had to settle for a point after an absorbing contest at Craven Cottage tonight.
Blackpool got off to the perfect start when Ishmael Miller put them in front after just ninety seconds and new loan signing Jacob Murphy doubled the lead. But Tony McMahon’s red card four minutes before the break for lashing out at Hugo Rodallega put the visitors’ position under question and the Championship’s bottom club showed their defensive vulnerability when Scott Parker punished a failure to clear a Fulham corner in first-half stoppage time.
The Tangerines, who haven’t won at Craven Cottage since 1986, faced a tall order of trying to preserve their slender lead for the duration of the second half with ten men. They manfully held out until seventeen minutes from time when Joe Lewis, who had earlier pulled off a brilliant reaction save to deny Nikolay Bodurov, was deceived by a Bryan Ruiz corner, which flew straight into the Hammersmith End net. Such was Fulham’s dominance of the play in the second half that Kit Symons suggested his side were the ones who had dropped points, but you fancy it was Clark – his former Fulham team-mate – who was reflecting more bitterly on the missed opportunity afterwards.
Blackpool’s start was certainly arresting. Miller’s snapshot from a precise Donervon Daniels’ pass stunned the Cottage – and gave Marcus Bettinelli little chance. The former West Bromwich Albion forward then made the second – sliding a low cross into the path of debutant Murphy, who converted with the minimum of fuss. Clark was furious with captain McMahon for kicking out at Rodallega – a moment that both managers agreed changed the game – and it didn’t take long for Fulham to make their numerical advantage count. All in all, a draw was probably a fair result, but Symons could do without his side’s shambolic defending of the early months of the season making a return now he has got the managerial job on a full-time basis.
FULHAM (4-1-2-1-2): Bettinelli; Zverotic, Amorebieta (Stafylidis 44), Bodurov, Burn; Parker; Christensen, Williams (Roberts 68); Ruiz; Dembele (Woodrow 76), Rodallega. Subs (not used): Kiraly, Hutchinson, Hyndman, Smith.
BOOKED: Parker, Christensen.
GOALS: Parker (45+1), Ruiz (73).
BLACKPOOL (4-2-3-1): Lewis; McMahon, Dunne, Daniels, Clarke; Lundstram, Perkins; Murphy (Delfouneso 77), Blackman, Orlandi (Mellis 52); Miller (Ranger 68). Subs (not used): Zoko, Parish, Oriol, Cywka.
BOOKED: Clarke, Dunne, Perkins.
SENT OFF: McMahon.
GOALS: Miller (2), Murphy (26).
REFEREE: Bobby Madley (West Yorkshire).
New Blackpool manager Lee Clark insists sentiment will go out the window when he returns to Fulham.
The Blackpool boss spent seven years at Craven Cottage as a player between 1999-2005, scoring 22 goals in 140 appearances for the west Londoners.
However, the struggling Seasiders are rock-bottom of the table after just one win from their opening 15 games.
Clark said: “I had seven fantastic years there. I’ve got terrific memories of the place, but I’m going there with allegiances to Blackpool and trying to get a result.
“I helped the club through a terrific period and, up until Roy Hodgson was in charge, it was our highest finish in the Premier League.
“We qualified for the UEFA Cup and went to places like Old Trafford and got results. It was a fantastic time for me.”
Martin Jol was a relieved man after Fulham sneaked into the FA Cup fourth round after coming from behind to beat Championship Blackpool in extra time.
The Whites were on the brink of being eliminated by the Tangerines – just as in the original tie – when Kieran Richardson rifled in an equaliser in the last seconds of stoppage time. Brede Hangeland headed the winner from a Damien Duff corner in extra time – although there was some doubt about who had the final touch.
“Someone told me it was an own goal but I don’t know, I haven’t seen it again yet,” Jol admitted afterwards. “I asked Brede about it and he didn’t know either. Of course it’s always a relief to win games like this but then again we should have won the first game at home, we created so many chances.”
I thought we did okay under the circumstances. They are a good team with a few talented players. We should have won at home because we had so many crosses and opportunities in the final third but we couldn’t score. We had to come away from home to a difficult place. The pitch was probably 10 times worse than we could have imagined but we were prepared for that. We still tried to play. That is the only thing we can do but then again you have to score a goal and the problem comes when you don’t.”