Mark Hughes made some notable changes to his starting line-up to face Blackburn Rovers on Saturday afternoon following last weekend’s 2-1 victory over Wolves at the Cottage.
Due to Bobby Zamora’s absence through injury, Hughes selected Clint Dempsey and Mousa Dembele to lead Fulham’s attack at Ewood Park.
Damien Duff returned from injury to take his place at right midfield as Carlos Salcido made his debut for Fulham at left back. Stephen Kelly was handed a starting role on the opposite flank.
Fulham got Saturday’s contest underway on a dry, overcast afternoon in Lancashire and it was a frustrating first 45 minutes for Hughes’ side. Within the first minute of play Kelly impeded Kalinic just outside Fulham’s area. Pedersen whipped in the free-kick that Hangeland cleared with ease. Long balls into Schwarzer’s area were to become the theme of the afternoon at Ewood Park.
After three minutes of play Nelsen delivered the first testing delivery from distance, striking the ball from inside his own half towards Schwarzer’s area. The keeper punched the ball clear on the 18 yard line but it was a nervy start for Fulham.
Five minutes later Blackburn tried their luck again and launched the ball towards Fulham's 18 yard line. M. Diouf applied the pressure on Schwarzer and the keeper’s punched clearance fell to Pedersen who lofted ball back towards goal. Fortunately Hangeland had read the danger and headed the ball off the line to safety.
Fulham's first sight of goal came after 11 minutes of play after Dempsey won a direct free-kick 25 yards from goal. The US international stepped up to the plate but his right footed drive from the left hand side of the area sailed wide of Robinson’s goal.
Opportunities were few and far between for Fulham during the opening exchanges despite the bright promise Duff showed early on down the right flank with a series of teasing runs.
Fulham were finding it difficult to find their natural passing rhythm as the game was constantly interrupted by a flow of free-kicks and set pieces. With every opportunity that came their way, Blackburn looked to apply pressure on Fullham’s defence by delivering the ball into the area from distance. Mark Schwarzer was forced to navigate his way through a host of players on every occasion to punch clear of goal.
Damien Duff looked the most likely player to unlock Blackburn’s defence but it Mousa Dembele who almost earned Fulham the lead after 21 minutes. The striker picked the ball up on the half way line and sprinted in possession a full forty yards before unleashing a fierce left footed drive just wide of Robinson’s goal.
Brede Hangeland produced a stunning sliding tackle inside the area to deny M. Diouf a shot on goal just before the hour mark. Sixty seconds later the Norwegian was adjudged to have fouled the same player on the half way line and was booked by Referee Taylor.
Blackburn took the lead from the resulting set piece but Fulham felt rightfully aggrieved as Schwarzer was clearly impeded in the build up. It was El Hadji Diouf who appeared to charge into Schwarzer as the keeper attempted to punch the free-kick clear 12 yards from goal. The ball fell to Samba who headed into an empty net. Fulham’s protestations would not be heard but the evidence was hard to ignore.
Hughes’ players picked themselves up and Carlos Salcido almost pulled the game five minutes later with a stunning right footed curling effort from the left hand side of the area. Robinson’s save was equally as impressive as the former England international tipped the ball wide of his outside post with a diving save.
Danny Murphy was doing his best to drive Fulham forward in search of an equaliser as Fulham began to take control of possession but half time came too quickly for Hughes’ side who were beginning to find their rhythm just before the break.
Mousa Dembele was driving Fulham forward in possession at the start of the second half but after just two minutes of play the striker was fouled by Grella. Dembele was left in pain by the late challenge and to make matters worse Nelsen fouled him again, on the same spot, just a minute later. Dembele was certainly in the wars but the striker's silky skills are matched by a physical presence that is required on occassions such as a trip to Ewood Park.
It was far from an enthralling spectacle but Fulham were doing their best to get the ball down and play their passing game in the second half.
10 minutes into the second period Hughes’ side produced several promising passages of play and how it paid off. After 55 minutes Davies set Salcido free down the left flank and the Mexican’s cross to Dempsey in the middle of the box was inch perfect. The striker rose above his marker to head the ball past Robinson. It was just what Fulham deserved.
Following Dempsey’s equaliser Fulham took control of the game. Hughes’ side were clearly not satisfied with a share of the spoils judging by Salcido and Kelly’s attacking intentions down the flanks.
It took Rovers until the 66th minute to find an opening but substitute Emerton’s strike from the right hand side of the area was easily held by Schwarzer. However, Emerton’s attempt signalled the start of another series of aerial attacks from Blackburn. The home crowd sensed a change in proceedings but Hughes’ defence remained resolute under pressure as the final twenty minutes approached.
16 minutes from time Duff opened up Blackburn’s defence down the right flank and produced a superb delivery along the six yard line. No one was there to take advantage but the delivery offered hope that a winner could be found by Fulham in the final stages of the game.
Mark Hughes replaced Clint Dempsey with Eddie Johnson for the final 13 minutes of play as the game opened up. Both sides looked capable of producing a winner and Fulham were offered a set piece opportunity with eight minutes left. Danny Murphy won the free-kick but his right footed curling effort just went wide of Robinson’s far post.
Fulham were attacking at will in the final minutes and looking to replicate last weekend’s late win against Wolves. Hughes replaced Danny Murphy with Zoltan Gera for the final two minutes of the game but there was no way through Blackburn's defence despite a sterling late effort.