In Fulham, all roads lead to Bobby Zamora.
At least that was the impression given last season, when Roy Hodgson led his side to unprecedented success, and again this term when the striker's absence with a broken leg became a prime factor in half of Fulham's games ending in draws.
Against Blackburn, Zamora was the main reason why Fulham recorded a seventh league win rather than a 15th draw. The striker marked his return to league action after six months on the sidelines with the winning goal a minute from full-time. But if that moment was greeted with raucous abandon by the home support it had been preceded by an audible sigh of relief as Clint Dempsey, Fulham's designated penalty taker, recalled his fluffed spot‑kick against Chelsea 10 days earlier and gave the ball to Zamora, who was on as a 70th‑minute substitute.
"I don't normally take penalties but I think there were a few nervous people out there," said Zamora. "Danny [Murphy] was off and he or Clint usually take the penalties, so obviously he didn't want it. But I was happy to take it and I only had one thing in my mind."
It was enough for the Fulham manager, Mark Hughes, rakishly wearing a daffodil, to declare there was spring in the air. "Bobby's return makes a massive difference," he said. "You could see from the amount of time that he's on that he gives us a different threat. We struggled to keep the ball – they have strong centre-halves and it kept coming back, so when Bobby came on there was a marked difference. I threw him on for 25 minutes [in the FA Cup against Bolton Wanderers] and he told me off. He was a little apprehensive. But today he's ready and he knows he's ready. Now we can let him off the leash."
Such uninhibited joy would have been scarcely credible before Zamora's introduction. Damien Duff had twice given Fulham the lead in front of a sell-out crowd but Blackburn appeared capable of matching their opponents, with Steve Hanley and Junior Hoilett scoring equalisers.
The visitors were perhaps worthy of one of the 10 points their manager, Steve Kean, believes they will need to avoid relegation, but instead a fifth consecutive away defeat fuelled speculation that the former Fulham coach may be fighting to keep his job after 10 weeks in charge. Sources at Blackburn say reports in a Sunday newspaper that Kean met Venkys representatives on Saturday night were wide of the mark – the club's Indian owners are not thought to be in the country – but predictions of a fifth-place finish look as rash as the decision to sack Sam Allardyce.
The pain of a ninth defeat in Kean's 15‑game tenure was exacerbated after the final whistle, when Mark Clattenburg sent off Blackburn's Gaël Givet, who had been substituted, for aggressively questioning the referee's decision to award a penalty.
"It was probably a surge of frustration with the referee," Kean said. "We had to take him off with 10 minutes to go because he put so much into the game and was totally empty. He was in tears after the game. But if you get sent off for dissent then we would have to [punish him] because that is within the code of conduct."
It was another torrid day for Clattenburg, who added to the controversy of the previous week's failure to spot a Wayne Rooney elbow by missing a similar incident involving Steven Nzonzi on Duff and then failed to award Fulham two penalties before he did punish Hanley for what was a far more minor offence. The referee was barracked by both sets of supporters and paired a pained look with his trademark grin.
"I went to speak to Mark about the penalty," Kean said. "It's a decisive moment and we were on the wrong side of it. If an assessor is looking then it is technically a penalty but there were 10 in that game alone. He took my point and said, 'Thanks for coming in the manner you did.'"
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