Fulham dazzled as Rovers conjure up precious gems

Blackburn Rovers 2 Fulham 1
Click to follow

Two volleys, two explosions of accuracy from Morten Gamst Pedersen and Tugay, opened Blackburn's home campaign in such a spectacular fashion that their supporters had every reason to wonder whether Mark Hughes had somehow transplanted Arsenal in the blue and white shirts. Add Lucas Neill hitting the bar in the closing minutes and you can see why those seated in the Jack Walker Stand were rubbing their eyes in disbelief.

"Morten had the goal of the season for an hour," the Blackburn manager said, "but Tugay might have matched it. Both goals demanded a fantastic degree of technique and ability to hit the ball so cleanly." His true satisfaction, however, was the result. "It was important we bounced back after losing at West Ham last week. We needed a response and we got one."

Given that Hughes spent eight months last season labouring to overcome a poor start he inherited from Graeme Souness, you could understand his relief. Another defeat to add to the dire second-half performance at Upton Park and Blackburn would have been in unwanted, if familiar, territory. Instead, the mantle of strugglers may have passed to Fulham, who have one point from their two matches.

"It was an unacceptable performance in the first 45 minutes," Chris Coleman, their manager said, refusing to gain consolation even from Brian McBride's goal. "The whole team looked tired and jaded. We can't turn up at places like Blackburn and be less than fully committed."

Hughes, deprived of Paul Dickov and Craig Bellamy through suspension and injury respectively, employed a single striker, Shefki Kuqi, which seemed like a negative solution to a problem but, in fact, proved to be anything but in the 15th minute. The key to this formation was the ability of the wingers to join the lonely Finn up front and Pedersen did so emphatically, volleying in Kuqi's accurate cross from the edge of the area. The only doubt once it left Pedersen's left foot was whether the bar would withstand the force, but the ball thundered against it and into the net.

Fulham had two players in their side who had appeared in Copenhagen in midweek and must have been surprised to see such quality from an English team but, for the rest of the half Blackburn produced some excellent one-touch patterns and would have scored again had Tony Warner not blocked Kuqi's shot.

This spell was unlikely to last, however, and it ended abruptly in the 49th minute. Neill fouled Boa Morte on Blackburn's right and the home players seemed surprised when the free-kick was not played into the area but was passed down the wing. Steed Malbranque crossed to the near post and McBride stuck out a foot as he stumbled. It was not pretty but it was effective and the ball skidded beyond Brad Friedel's dive.

Given Blackburn's collapse at West Ham, Hughes had reason to be concerned and was less than happy when Pedersen chipped a corner to the edge of the area in the 70th minute. "I thought 'don't do it'," Hughes said, "because I had visions of them breaking. I shouldn't have doubted the maestro." Tugay fired in a shot that never rose more than a yard above the ground but found its way like a bullet through a packed area.

Nothing was likely to surpass the quality of Blackburn's goals but Neill tried his hardest with four minutes to go. Crowning a solid display at right back, he burst infield and fired a shot past Warner from the edge of the area. This time the ball hit the bar and bounced clear.