Blackburn Rovers 2: Fulham receive reality check from McCarthy

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The Independent Online

After the euphoria of defeating Arsenal for the first time in 40 years, a reality check for Fulham. Much to the frustration of their manager, Chris Coleman, this was a performance, punished by goals from Shabani Nonda and Benni McCarthy, more in keeping with last month's defeat at Manchester City from the west London side, who were more comfortably beaten than the scoreline might indicate.

The result ended a run of six Premiership matches without a win for Blackburn, who had started the day with only goal difference keeping them out of the bottom three. There had been suspicions that their excellent form in the Uefa Cup was becoming a distraction but this performance should nail those and the manager, Mark Hughes, believes his side have an opportunity to pull themselves clear of trouble. "If we beat Charlton we will have more points than at the same stage last season," he said.

"We looked tired after putting in so much effort to beat Arsenal," Coleman lamented. "But I don't like this tag we have acquired of playing well one game and then badly the next. We must learn to close ranks when we come into games like this." With both goals conceded in the opening 24 minutes, it was not the start goalkeeper Jan Lastuvka would have hoped for on his first Premiership appearance. The 24-year-old Czech is likely to be asked to make an extended run in the side because the first choice, Antti Niemi, will be out for up to six weeks after surgery on a cartilage problem.

Coleman was not keen to blame him, however, even though his indecisiveness played a part in Blackburn gaining a sixth-minute lead from Stéphane Henchoz's long punt. More culpable was Zat Knight, who allowed Nonda to get behind him and flick the ball past the debutant.

Lastuvka was blameless as Blackburn grabbed their second from another long pass, this time from Lucas Neill. Ian Pearce, back from injury, was the man in a muddle this time, letting McCarthy gain control and, as he attempted to block the South African striker's shot, deflecting it in a loop over the head of the stranded goalkeeper.

By half-time it could have been worse still for the visitors, Liam Rosenior's attempt to make a headed back-pass going hopelessly wrong but, fortunately for him, going unpunished by Morten Gamst Pedersen.

Having created only one noteworthy chance in that period, Fulham seemed to have little prospect of recovery. The energy of Robbie Savage - unrestrained even after an early yellow card - and the inventiveness of McCarthy, whose goal had been his first in the Premiership since mid-October, were more than compensating for the absence of the suspended Tugay.

At least Lastuvka made himself feel a little happier, standing up to save with his legs after Neill had raced full pelt on to a Brett Emerton return pass and then diving to his left to smother a shot by McCarthy, who later squandered the best chance of the afternoon.

Coleman introduced three attacking substitutes as the second half progressed but none was able to make a significant impact. He will dearly hope his real team turn up for next Saturday's trip to Liverpool - unless, of course, this was it.

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