Blackburn Rovers 1 Fulham 1: Bullard's superb strike lights Fulham's way forward

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The Independent Online

Jimmy Bullard's exquisite late free-kick has provided Fulham with both their first goal and first point in four matches – and their uphill survival fight with a glimmer of hope. Only a minute remained when the former Wigan midfielder, not long back from serious knee damage, curled a 22-yard free-kick over the wall and in to deny disappointing Blackburn a third straight win.

For a side who have endured 31 consecutive Premier League excursions without a victory, you might have thought such small mercies would go a long way. Not so for Fulham's former Blackburn manager Roy Hodgson, who claimed a miscarriage of justice in a game that was often turgid until Morten Gamst Pedersen's thumping header just before the hour.

"Our right-back was pulled to the ground and their guy had a free header for his goal," Hodgson said. "If you see the images we've seen, you will agree. It was a savage blow and the players could have been forgiven for thinking it wasn't their day. But they kept on, got the equaliser and their performance was not unworthy of three points."

There was at least an encouraging spirit about Fulham's play and eventually extra menace on an afternoon which started with Eddie Johnson as a lone attacker and ended with him having Brian McBride and David Healy for company.

Their irritation at falling behind was compounded by the fact they might have snatched the lead shortly before when Johnson, in fetching orange boots, wrong-footed Zurab Khizanishvili and struck the outside of the angle of post and crossbar.

Fulham were sufficiently encouraged by the near miss to quickly threaten again, Clint Dempsey failing to hook in from close range following Danny Murphy's mishit shot.

The breakthrough came in between, at the other end, though. Jason Roberts marked his introduction in a double substitution by crossing from space on the right for Pedersen close in. The Norwegian, having waited six months for his first League goal of the season, was held up only a further fortnight for his second. Roberts was then excellently and crucially denied by Kasey Keller – surprisingly preferred to Antti Niemi despite not having played for five months.

The save was the springboard for the late rescue act which has made no impression on Reading but will leave one or two others a little less secure.

The exciting finale went some way to making up for what hadn't gone before. Apart from a Khizanishvili header that was safely held by Keller – two years older at 38 than his opposite number and countryman Brad Friedel – the first half offered nothing.

Thankfully, the second was much better and Steven Reid looped a header over from David Bentley's corner and was enough of a presence in another attack for Paul Konchesky to stick out a foot and send the ball on to his crossbar and over.

Once Blackburn were ahead, Pedersen was narrowly wide with a free-kick out of the Bullard mould while Keller fell on a half-blocked shot by the extremely lively Roberts.

But Christopher Samba's late foul gave Konchesky the chance to roll the decisive set-piece to Bullard and ensure that Blackburn's dressing room wasn't a great place to be afterwards.

"We should have been more professional and closed the game out," said their manager Mark Hughes. "It's a poor result and we were flat in the first half. You fear the worst when Jimmy Bullard is in that position because there's not a great deal you can do if the technique is right."

Blackburn's proposed journey towards Uefa Cup qualification will not stand many detours like this.

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