BLACKBURN’S central defenders came to the rescue of their strikers with the goals that ended a run of nine league games without a win.
Christopher Samba, marking his 100th appearance for the club, and the Rovers captain, Ryan Nelsen, showed their frontmen how it is done with what their manager, Sam Allardyce, called “clinical finishing.”
The first example of that trait, badly missing of late, came midway through the first half with a score to which the towering Samba made a double contribution.
The ball with which he picked out Benni McCarthy was perfectly weighted and the striker would have scored himself but for a superb save from Mark Schwarzer. McCarthy’s corner was mishit to the foot of the near post, but Schwarzer and Damien Duff could only, between them, clear it as far as the lurking Samba, who finished like a forward, but thankfully not a Blackburn forward.
Fulham, for all the industry and technique of Danny Murphy and young Chris Baird, however, and the headless-chicken running of the onetime Rovers hero, Duff, rarely threatened. The exception was a two-minute spell late in the first half, when they slipped into a more direct mode and could have scored three times. Having survived that, though, Blackburn held on to and extended their lead with conviction.
Nelsen is their second leading goalscorer and he showed why eight minutes into the second half, when he ghosted away from his markers to meet McCarthy’s cunningly flighted free-kick with a glancing header. Fulham’s Roy Hodgson thought it was offside, but had no complaints overall about coming away empty handed. In truth, they barely endangered Rovers’ two-goal lead, especially after losing Clint Dempsey to what they fear could be a serious knee injury. It was a relieved Allardyce who spoke afterwards – and one to whom the issue of where the goals came from was of strictly secondary importance.
“We have to up our goal tally all over the field, but especially from our more attacking players,” he said. “But this is a massive result for us.” It was, as he pointed out Blackburn’s third match in six days – during which Fulham had their feet up – and one that lifts them to the heady heights of 11th.
It will also give them some muchneeded confidence for their Carling Cup semi-final second leg at Villa Park on Wednesday. Now, if those forwards could only chip in with the odd goal, anything is possible.
Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Robinson; Chimbonda, Samba, Nelsen, Givet (Hoilett, 59); Emerton (Salgado, 82), Reid (Andrews, 69), Nzonzi, Olsson; Kalinic, McCarthy Substitutes not used: Brown, Dunn, Di Santo.
Fulham (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Hughes, Baird, Hangeland, Konchesky (Kallio, h-t); Duff, Murphy, Baird, Gera; Johnson, Dempsey (Nevland, 61). Substitutes not used: Zuberbuhler (gk), Smalling, Riise, Greening, Dikgacoi.
Referee: K Friend (Leicestershire).
Booked: Blackburn Samba; Fulham Baird, Gera, Nevland.
Man of the match: Samba.