Fulham went into the match on the cusp of mathematically clinching a promotion that had looked inevitable since starting the season like an express train with 11 straight wins. Jean Tigana had introduced a breathtaking brand of football that had swept most opponents aside.
Graham Taylor had earlier in the season suggested his Watford side were our match before being hammered at the Cottage 5-0 and thereafter disappearing from the promotion race. In a similar vein, Graeme Souness suggested before this fixture that his side were the best in the Division. Although they were our nearest challengers and were on a concerted run to clinch the second automatic promotion place he seemed to be overlooking the fact we were 13 points clear of them, had scored 81 goals to their 64 with a goal difference of +55 that was 25 superior to theirs.
His comments certainly stirred the pot and added interest to a Wednesday night match being broadcast live on Sky Sports.
Fulham had their tried and trusted defence in place. Maik Taylor was a pillar of consistency between the sticks whilst the sad loss of Chris Coleman at centre back to the leg injury he suffered in a horrific car crash had been overcome by the consistency of his fellow Welshmen Andy Melville and Kit Symons. Steve Finnan was fulfilling his undoubted potential on the right with Tigana’s influence inspiring a reborn Rufus Brevett on the left.
In midfield, Bjarne Goldbaek had a telepathic understanding with Finnan on the right while the contrasting styles of Lee Clark and John Collins blended perfectly in the engine room where Tigana had also placed his faith in our homegrown tyro Sean Davis.
Our front two that evening were the sublimely gifted Louis Saha alongside Barry Hayles who had emerged from a slow start at the Cottage to become something of a cult hero. These two had been sharing goals all season with the third part of the triumvirate Luis Boa Morte who was absent on the night.
On the bench were Marcus Hahnemann, Nicolas Sahnoun, Andrejs Stolcers, Karl Heinz Riedle and Alan Nielson who was the only one to come on when the unfortunate Hayles had to be sacrificed in the 43rd minute.
Fulham: Taylor, Finnan, Brevett, Melville, Symons, Goldbaek, Clark, Davis, John Collins, Hayles (Neilson 43′), Saha.
Unused Substitutes: Sahnoun, Riedle, Stolcers, Hahnemann.
The Blackburn team had a smattering of star names including future Fulham favourite Damien Duff who unluckily succumbed to injury after only 12 minutes that night.
Blackburn: Friedel, Curtis, Berg, Short (Berkovic 64′), Duff (Bjornebye 12′), Gillespie (Hignett 74′), Dunn, Flitcroft, Mahon, Marcus Bent, Jansen.
Unused Substitutes: Filan, Hughes.
Blackburn were fired up for the occasion and jumped into an early lead through a Matt Jansen header in the 6th minute. We struggled to get a foothold in the game with the referee seeming lenient to Blackburn’s aggressive approach whilst booking Rufus Brevett for a comparatively innocuous event. Disaster was to follow in the 43rd minute with the combative left-back taking an early bath for a second yellow and Barry Hayles having to be sacrificed in order for Alan Nielson to slot in at the back.
A goal and a man down we were handed a lifeline on the stroke of half time when Friedel got into a tangle with his own defender and dropped the ball at Saha’s feet. King Louis wasn’t about to look this gift horse in the mouth and rifled it home to send us into the interval level.
Although Blackburn tried to make the most of their man advantage in the second half we defended resolutely and kept clear cut chances down to a minimum. As the game entered stoppage time we were preparing to celebrate a very hard-earned point when we suddenly broke into their half. The ball worked it’s way to Lee Clark who’s shot from the edge of the box was blocked by a defender only to spiral perfectly into the path of Sean Davis who emphatically buried the ball past the despairing Friedel.
The celebrations that followed will live long in every Fulham fan’s memory with Sean Davis performing an impromptu boogie in the corner whilst ‘Mr Cool’ Jean Tigana hurtled down the touchline in wild delight. I think Mr Souness may have touched a nerve with his pre-match comments.
Man of the Match: Kit Symons
Lee Clark speaking after the match: “We have shown the side of our character that many people think we didn’t have. They asked whether we had the heart to go to places and get results on the muddy pitches of winter.
“It’s fair to say we showed Blackburn a bit more respect than they showed us. We won when we were down to 10 men against the best side in the league,” he said with more than a hint of irony, referring to comments this week from Graeme Souness, implying that his Blackburn side carried that mantle.”
Graham Souness speaking after the match: “We have been punched on the nose in the cruellest possible way. Only the most extremely biased observer could say that Fulham deserved all the points.”
John Collins: “It was a massive result against our main rivals at a key period in the season. Going a goal down early and then Rufus being sent off, most people would have thought game over but we had a great fitness coach in Roger Propos and we always finished games strongly.
“We also had a lot of quality in the team.
Combine quality and fitness and you get confidence which is a great blend.”
Kit Symons: “I remember the game really well. Souness was bigging them up claiming that they were the best team in the league. There was a lot riding on it anyway and this just added to the tension.
We didn’t start great, 1-0 down & Rufus being sent off. So, Alan Neilson had to come on as a sub because we were a defender short. I remember that this game came just after the rules changed on taking jewellery off rather than taping over rings etc. but Alan had taped over his wedding ring… So, he’s almost ripping his finger off because they won’t let him on the pitch! It was funny watching him panic, that’s how eager he was to get on and help his teammates.
You see Tigana running down the touchline in the replays when Seany scores the winner and that says it all because he was a man who rarely showed emotion, it meant so much. I remember that it was an evening match on Sky and I received the Man of the Match award which I dedicated to the big lump, as it came just after Cookie’s car crash.
I also got tickets for my friend at the BBC, Dawn, who’s a lifelong Fulham fan. She drove up but her car broke down just outside Blackburn and she missed the match. Shame, because it turned out to be a ‘bit of a classic’. It’s one we will never forget.”
Maik Taylor: “One of ‘the’ most satisfying matches I’ve played in. From the occasion, top of the table clash, to the team spirit we showed being a man down, to the climax at the end with Sean scoring. Moments like that don’t come too often in football! Will cherish forever!”
Rufus Brevett: “Now I do feel old 18 years, wow! I just remember Souness saying before the game that Blackburn were the best team in the division, we just kept quiet and went about our job. When I got sent off it was the worst feeling in my career because I felt I’d let everyone down. Then Sean scored that last minute classic counter-attacking goal and his dance along with Tigana’s jig on the sideline still gives me goosebumps. An incredible night and one that won’t be forgotten. My teammates were magnificent.”
Amazing night, Seany dance summing up the evening – at about the same time as a cup of piss came flying over from the home end. Tried to go for post match pint but locals didn’t seem too pleased so back to hotel to watch the highlights with other #ffc fans.
— Gerry Pimm (@gerrypimm) April 9, 2019
“Sourness Sourness, what’s the score?” as he did his post match interview! And of course knowing we had pretty much won the league!
— Jason Sinclair (@JasonSinclair7) April 8, 2019
Coming out and my mates car in the hotel car park gear box seized up and stuck in third gear, had Blackburn fans pushing us backwards to help us out! Drove all the way back took ages but we didn’t care!
— Mark Bright (@65brighty) April 8, 2019
Couldn’t go, but dancing round my tv screen when Sean scored which put me in the perfect position to rub my bottom on said screen when Souness’s face appeared.
— marion fountayne (@marionfountayne) April 8, 2019
Hyper-ventilating on the floor in front of a very quiet TV, being in a room a very thin door away from the room where my wife and our new baby were sleeping. How I didn’t wake them when that went in, I’ll never know
— Paddy Sturdee (@PJS2909) April 9, 2019
Went with 5 mates, we were in the main stand sat with Blackburn friends. At 0-1 and a player light they were sharing sweets and being friendly etc. When we equalised, they outed us to stewards and despite our friends protests we we removed to the away section. I Love Sean Davis
— Kevin Williams (@kevwilliams23) April 8, 2019
My brother drove from Leeds and got a ticket in the home end. He told me that after the whistle he refused to leave until the team had left the pitch. Despite the constant badgering of stewards he stood alone cheering!
— Liam Roberts (@Liam_Ro8) April 8, 2019
Sean’s winner became my favourite-ever #ffc goal – the climax to an epic backs-against-the-wall display after their early goal & Rufus seeing red. So sweet after the derogatory pre-match comments by Souness & the unrestrained joy shown by a normally reserved Tigana said it all.
— Carl Passion (@carlpassion1) April 8, 2019
Went up on the FFC coach with a mate. When Davis scored I picked up a girl standing next to me and swung her around in delight. Had to apologize to her and to her other half but to be fair they were great about it and knew it was just spontaneous exuberance.
— Vernon Dandy (@vernondandy) April 8, 2019
One of the greatest moments in Fulham history – so i was in a sports clubs lots of screens no one watching except me – Sean scores and moi leaps up and screams Goallllllllll me of course is the only person doing this and everyone else is now looking at me – exit stage left .
— Ken Vessey (@fulhamken) April 8, 2019
Absolute monster of a performance. It was just one of those special nights to be a white. That goal by Davis will stay with me and my family who were all there for a long time. Tigana running down the touchline & Souness on the big screen after – absolutely magic pic.twitter.com/dbTno8jj0H
— Sam Austin (@sw2sam) April 8, 2019
Cheering so much when he scored that I thought I was going to be sick in the car on the way home. Most I have ever cheered a goal in my life. Hugging strangers- what a night!!!!
— Matt Boisclair (@mattffc1981) April 8, 2019
Fulham were mathematically promoted on the following Saturday with a 2-1 win at Huddersfield and on the Monday saw another last gasp strike from Davis clinch the title as we rescued a draw with Sheffield Wednesday at an ecstatic Craven Cottage. We finished the season with a massive 101 points some 10 clear of Blackburn who overcame their disappointment to finish 4 points clear of Bolton in second place and in so doing were clearly the best team in the division- weren’t they Mr Souness?