Did you know that Fulham have faced Blackburn Rovers more times than any other side in the new millennium? From a competitive rivalry in a race to the Premier League, to a dozen years facing each other in the top flight and now full circle back in the Championship again.
Daniel Smith reflects on his top 5 memories against Rovers over the years…
5 – CAIRNEY’S INJURY-TIME WINNER (2016/17)
Slav’s men had started the 2016/17 campaign very promisingly indeed. Already seeing off title favourites Newcastle on the opening day of the season, we travelled to Ewood Park at the end of August with 8 points from our first 4 games. Pretty good going considering we are notorious for being slow starters.
The game was fizzling out for a stalemate before Cairney won the ball back 35 yards out, he slotted it wide for Ryan Sessegnon to run onto down the left channel and his first-time cross was only half-cleared to the former Blackburn man just inside the box. The midfielder hit it first time casually side footing home the three points in the 94th minute, sending the travelling fans wild.
Something tells me that those last couple of sentences are going to be used to describe another, more meaningful goal further down our list!
4 – BLACKBURN 0-2 FULHAM (2003/04)
The 2003/04 campaign was a very successful one for Fulham. Louis Saha was having the season of his life and we had a first eleven that imo on paper was our best of the Premier League era. Something we haven’t had since January 2004 is a front 3 quite as exhilarating as Steed, Saha and Boa on the counter attack and we certainly haven’t had a duo quite as quick as the latter two.
This pace was demonstrated in a classic away performance on September 28th 2003. Boa Morte gave Fulham an early lead with a tap-in after just five minutes allowing Chris Coleman’s side a lead to protect. We remained resolute and organised throughout the first half forcing the home side to be more adventurous after the break in an attempt to force AJ equaliser. This played right into our hands as ten minutes after the break, a long ball down the right channel was the invitation for a foot race between Louis Saha and Amoruso. There was always only going to be one winner forcing the Italian defender into an attempt to pull King Louis’ shirt but the Frenchman wasn’t just quick, he was also too strong as he shrugged off the challenge, then cut back inside the defender to finish it off expertly from the edge of the area.
A goal that sounds and looks so simple. But it was classic Louis which is why we haven’t seen many strikers since pull it off since. Granted that this game isn’t quite as memorable as others on the list but a solid win in a season that saw us record the clubs highest finish at the time in 9th place.
3 – JIMMY BULLARD FREE-KICK (GREAT ESCAPE)
When you think of Fulham’s Great Escape, there are three or four moments that come to mind immediately. But the reality is that every goal proved crucial to our survival in 2007/08 including this trademark free-kick from Jimmy Bullard.
Fulham eventually survived on goal difference to send Reading and Birmingham down on the final day of the season. The situation going into this match with Blackburn on the 8th March saw us in 19th place on 19 pts. 6 points behind Reading and Bolton, 7 points behind Birmingham. Blackburn on the other hand were having a very promising season under Mark Hughes and sat comfortably in 7th position on 45 points, chasing down a place in the UEFA Cup.
After a goalless first half, Morten Gamst Pedersen gave Rovers the lead in the 59th minute. It appeared to be the winning goal but Jimmy Bullard was at it again to rescue a point in stoppage time with a delightful free-kick whipped over the wall, to the keepers right hand side.
2 – BOA MORTE SOLO GOAL (2003/04)
The match itself was an entertaining end-to-end encounter, which resulted in a 3-4 defeat to Rovers during our days at Loftus Road. But the stand-out moment despite finishing on the losing side came from Luís Boa Morte. The deadly snake won the ball back on the left-hand side in our third of the pitch, drove past a couple of challenges before exchanging a perfectly weighted one-two pass with home debutant, Collins John. The young Dutchman was full of confidence having already bagged two goals on the night and his return pass to Boa, who had continued his run, met the Portuguese whippet without needing to break stride. It took the entire Blackburn back four out of the game and our lightning quick number eleven found himself in on goal, despite being just inside the oppositions half.
You’d imagine that running with the ball slows you down but the gap between Boa and the chasing pack just grew as he burst into the box, having the composure needed to slot it past the experienced Brad Friedel. What made this goal so unique was that you rarely see a player run from his own box through to score, and equally as impressive was the way he controlled his speed in order to keep control of the ball. A magnificent goal that only a very small handful of Fulham players would have been capable of scoring.
1 – SEAN DAVIS INJURY-TIME WINNER (2000/01)
It had been 34 years since Fulham had participated in the top flight of English Football and after the pain suffered during the darkest era of our history during the latter eighties/ early nineties it seemed like the stuff of fairytales to suggest that Fulham would ever return to the countries elite.
By the time we travelled to Ewood Park on April 11th for a clash of the top two live on Sky, this fairytale was on the verge of becoming a reality as Fulham had dominated and proved they were clearly the best side in the division. With 7 games to go, Fulham needed just 5 points to secure automatic promotion but the pre-match words from Blackburn manager Graham Souness made this more than just a push for promotion. Fulham, Blackburn and Bolton were arguably the strongest one-two-three to be promoted to the Premier League in its history but it was very clear to see from our performances, on paper looking at the table and to every neutral fan that we were head and shoulders the best team. Whether Souness’ claims that they were going to show the country that they were the best side in the league were mind games or sheer arrogance is up for debate but it’s an insult that most Fulham fans have never forgotten and it rallied us up for a game that in all honesty, wasn’t actually that important as we were going up anyway. All of a sudden, it did matter. This was personal.
Typically in a script of legend, it wasn’t going to plan for Tigana’s men at first. Matt Jansen gave the home side an early lead before Rufus Brevett was sent off in the 40th minute for a needless retaliation on Gary Flitcroft. Down to ten men, our legends dug deep, they were handed a proper backs to the wall test for the first time since their captain Chris Coleman had been ruled out for the season and they showed the character, experience and quality that justified why we were the best. Saha managed to nick a goal back just before the break in fortuitous fashion as Brad Friedel dropped Steve Finnan’s hopeful cross as a result of clattering into one of his team mates, 1-1 at half time.
The second half was all about holding on as Blackburn did most of the pressing, desperate for the win with Bolton breathing down their necks, just three points behind. Most managers and teams would have settled for the point given our lead at the top but this group of players only knew how to win. Somehow we found a second wind deep into stoppage time, Goldbaek found Lee Clark on the counter attack to the left hand side of the Blackburn box. He worked the ball onto his right foot before taking a punt at goal which looked to be quite a tame effort. The deflection bounced kindly into the path of Sean Davis just inside the box. The midfielder hit it first time casually side footing home the three points in the 92nd minute, sending the travelling fans wild (told you we’d be seeing that sentence again!)
The explosion of adrenaline as relief released when the ball hit the net would have sent earthquake readings through Lancashire. Davis did his famous dance in front of the uncontrollable Fulham faithful piling into one heap behind him, creating one of the greatest moments of footage in the clubs history. Even the usually reserved Tigana showed emotion and couldn’t hide his satisfaction at the result. In a way, had we beaten them 5-0 that night and complete tore them apart, I don’t think it would have gone down in history the way it has. There’s something magical about the defiance we showed and the miraculous last minute winner which added to the drama.
We knew that despite needing another 2 points, we were not only going up, but we were going to win the league. A special feeling that I think you only really appreciate as a fan if you’ve ever experienced the despair in the decade or so beforehand. Fulham we’re heading for the Premier League!
Come August, Sean Davis was walking out at Old Trafford to become the first and only player to represent the club in all four divisions. But who are we kidding, the first thing that comes to mind whenever Sean Davis is mentioned is that Blackburn goal. Without doubt, our best memory of facing Blackburn Rovers and very unlikely to ever be beaten.