Saha runs over Rovers' defence

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The Independent Online

Fulham are offering next year's season tickets at their current prices, even if they are promoted to the Premiership. A promotion before their inevitable promotion, if you like. After this win extended their perfect start to 10 League wins out of 10 and restored them to the top of the First Division, that sounds like an offer too good to refuse.

Fulham are offering next year's season tickets at their current prices, even if they are promoted to the Premiership. A promotion before their inevitable promotion, if you like. After this win extended their perfect start to 10 League wins out of 10 and restored them to the top of the First Division, that sounds like an offer too good to refuse.

Yet despite their overwhelming start to this season and the gulf in class between them and the rest of the division, for just over an hour they were well matched by Rovers. In the end, it was their half-fit top scorer Louis Saha who made the difference after coming off the substitutes' bench, by earning and converting a penalty for the winning goal.

As if to prove this was as near to an off-day as Fulham get, it was the visitors who took the lead after four minutes. Matt Jansen robbed John Collins of the ball and then neatly evaded a couple of challenges before shooting low past Maik Taylor from just inside the penalty area. Duly shocked, that was the cue for Fulham to react.

Wave after wave of Fulham pressure made an equaliser seem inevitable and it duly arrived with 15 minutes gone. Fabrice Fernandes was brought in by the Fulham manager, Jean Tigana, on a year's loan from Rennes this summer and he has been one of his side's most outstanding performers this season, outshining even the likes of Collins and Lee Clark. Lurking out on the left side of midfield, Clark found Fernandes in space and the Frenchman reached the byline before cutting in past Jeff Kenna and drilling a low shot that, arguably, John Filan should not have let bounce off his hand and into the net.

With the promptings of Fulham's midfield quartet and the pace and direct running of Barry Hayles, Graeme Souness' Blackburn wore a tired look about them long before the end.

Fernandes then went close to making it two after 33 minutes, curling a low shot just past the post, but with Fulham having failed to take full advantage of all their possession, Blackburn grew ever more confident with Craig Hignett, on his debut after his summer move from Barnsley, hitting the crossbar from 25 yards.

However, it was the introduction of Saha that really sent shivers through Blackburn. Despite suffering from a knee injury, he ran at Henning Berg in the centre of defence and it was the Norwegian who brought him down in the penalty area after 67 minutes.

It was not a decision Souness agreed with, but he castigated his players for losing possession in the first place. Saha himself stepped up to convert the spot-kick for his 11th League goal of the season to keep Fulham well on the way to the Premiership and to do his bit for those advance season ticket sales.

The Blackburn manager, Graeme Souness, was realistic after his team's defeat.

"In the first half we got a roasting," he said. "They caused us problems down both flanks. In the second half we changed a few things and it was us that caused problems for them. I don't think they should have had the penalty that won the game but to be fair they should have had one earlier.

"We won't be winning the title but if we hold our resolve and keep going I firmly believe we will be in the play-offs."

Goals: Jansen (4) 0-1; Fernandes (15) 1-1; Saha (67, pen) 2-1.

Fulham (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; Finnan, Melville, Coleman, Trollope; Clark, Collins, Fernandes, Goldbaek (Lewis, 90); Boa Morte (Saha, 54), Hayles. Substitutes not used: Hahnemann (gk), Symons, Collins.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Filan; Bjornebye, Short (Martin Taylor, 40) Berg, Kenna; Dunn, Carsley (Hignett, h-t), Flitcroft, Curtis; Blake, Jansen (Duff, 52). Substitutes not used: Kelly (gk), Johnson.

Referee: U Rennie (Sheffield).

Booked: Fulham: Melville. Blackburn: Short, Berg, Hignett.

Man of the match: Fernandes.

Attendance: 15,237.

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