Blackburn Rovers 2 - 0 Fulham: Nelsen seals win to ease pressure on Blackburn
BLACKBURN captain Ryan Nelsen led by example as Sam Allardyce's side secured their first league win since November and ease fears that they could be dragged into a relegation battle.
Nelsen applied the lightest of touches to Benni McCarthy's 54th-minute free-kick to double Rovers' lead, defender Chris Samba having opened the scoring with a fortuitous 24th-minute ricochet from an attempted clearance by Damien Duff.
Despite some crisp counter-attacking and the acrobatics of Clint Dempsey, who saw a 36th-minute overhead kick beat Paul Robinson but crash back off the bar, Fulham threatened little.
With David Dunn dropped to the bench after the rigours of Thursday's Carling Cup defeat to Aston Villa, Rovers opened nervously, but McCarthy brought the home fans to life when he chested down a punt forward from Samba before firing a right-foot shot which Mark Schwarzer did well to punch over the bar.
Rovers went ahead from the resulting set-piece with McCarthy flinging the ball in and Damien Duff's boot off the line striking Samba and bouncing back into the net.
Fulham's Andy Johnson blazed over when presented with a chance to level before Danny Murphy sent a free-kick in from the left and Dempsey's acrobatic overhead kick hit the bar.
Fulham passed up a pair of second-half chances before Nelsen got on the end of McCarthy's free-kick to send waves of relief around Ewood Park.
Allardyce admitted everyone at the club had felt the build-up of pressure as they went into the game without a win in nine league matches.
He said: "The pressure is felt by all of us, no-one more than the players and staff. We are more tense and nervous than anyone else and we have to accept that as a challenge. It was all about the result today and the importance of going a goal in front was clear for all to see. It was the first time we've had the rub of the green in a long time.
"Then we scored the second at the right time and I thought we managed to play the game out very comfortably."
Allardyce reserved particular praise for McCarthy, but admitted he remains wary of over-playing the South African.
Allardyce added: "Benni is a delicate situation because of the game scenario, so choosing his matches is crucial for us. He has had some good performances for us but we need to be careful."
Fulham manager Roy Hodgson's primary concern was striker Clint Dempsey, who was forced to limp off during the second half and looks set to face a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
Hodgson, whose side have failed to win since beating Manchester United almost a month ago, said: "Clint will be scanned but we feel it might be a posterior cruciate knee ligament which would be very bad for us and he would be out for a while."
Fulham are already without Bobby Zamora for up to two months with a shoulder problem, so Hodgson may be forced into some transfer business this month.