Fulham missed the chance to move into the Championship play-off places as they were held to a 2-2 draw at home to struggling Blackburn.
A 94th minute equalizer from substitute Lucas Joao stunned the Cottage and ensured Tony Mowbray’s unbeaten run since taking over Rovers continued.
Fulham have been scoring for fun this season – only Newcastle have notched more goals in the division. But the potency that has been so apparent in recent games seemed to be lacking slightly.
After 40 minutes, the game’s best moment was referee Andy Davies stumbling to the floor as the hosts looked to counter attack, until Neeskens Kebano was hauled down for a free kick. Everyone was down, including Thomas Kalas, who kindly picked up the referee’s red and yellow cards and handed them back to him.
Slavisa Jokanovic’s side were patient and slick, without being particularly penetrative. Ryan Fredericks and Scott Malone both got forward with intent as Fulham started to step up the pressure.
Rovers looked like they were going to get to break all-square, until Tom Cairney found the one thing the visitors didn’t want him to find: space. He turned, he surged, and he found Stefan Johansen free on the left.
Sone Aluko came closest to putting Fulham ahead earlier in the half, and it was he who was on the end of the Norwegian’s cross to guide home his sixth goal of the season on the stroke of half-time.
At that point, Fulham looked on course for a win that would take them into sixth place, between Reading and Sheffield Wednesday, with the two scheduled to play each other at Hillsborough on Friday.
Only Mowbray knows the reason why Joao did not start, and it must have been a good one. The Portuguese striker was brought on with half an hour to play and looked a class above the rest as he started to influence the game.
The Cottagers have kept just one clean sheet in their last eight games, and that seemed to give Blackburn some encouragement. Chris Martin dallied on the ball on the halfway line which enabled Rovers to pounce.
Marvin Emnes, who was lively all night, was brought down in the area and Craig Conway fired home the resulting penalty with 10 minutes to go.
Fulham pushed for a winner, and Ryan Sessegnon had a few promising runs down the left side to no avail. The 16-year-old wonderkid has recently been linked with a move to Tottenham, but it was a former Spurs defender who was the white’s best player on the night.
Fredericks looked to get forward at any given opportunity and his endeavor was finally rewarded late on when he played the ball low across the six-yard box for substitute Cyriac to convert low past Jason Steele.
Craven Cottage was rocking. The Hammersmith end went into party mode for all of about five minutes as their elation was cut short. The man that had the biggest influence for Blackburn on the night had the final say.
Joao fended off Tim Reem with ease to sweep home a Derrick Williams cross in the 94th minute, leaving the Cottage stunned. It was a third goal in two games now for the 6ft 3in forward as Mowbray’s side jumped out of the drop zone.
Joao was booked for celebrating with a little too much wild abandon. The only plus for Fulham was the draw extended their unbeaten run to eight matches, but this was definitely two points dropped for Jokanovic’s team.
A home win against lowly Wolves on Saturday would still see Fulham rise into the play-off places, but they cannot afford to drop too many more points, especially at home.