Late Fulham goal spoils Blackpool's Premier League party
Blackpool 2 Fulham 2: Blackpool's four competitive games this season have produced 21 goals.
The latest feast, in which the hosts trailed to Bobby Zamora's third goal of the season before John Pantsil's own goal and a debut strike by the on-loan Luke Varney left Fulham facing yet another away-day failure, was lapped up by more than 15,500 spectators, the venue's biggest crowd since 1977.
The gathering included Fabio Capello, although if the England manager came to assess the form of Zamora and David Stockdale before announcing his squad for the Euro 2012 qualifiers against Bulgaria and Switzerland, he may have left disappointed. Zamora, who made his international bow against Hungary this month, suffered a thigh injury which his manager, Mark Hughes, said "must make him a doubt". Stockdale, the 24-year-old goalkeeper, went over on an ankle in a challenge with Varney. "He has done really well this season," said Hughes. "It'd be a shame if he gets picked and can't join up."
Holloway, who admitted he was pleased to see Zamora go off, hailed a "fantastic day for the club". The Blackpool manager added: "We've got to pinch ourselves we're at this level, and some of our football today was worthy of it. Our equaliser came from as good a move as I've seen from us. But I need seven or eight more players to have even half a fighting chance."
The game was an entertaining way to mark the official opening of Blackpool's new 5,070-seat East Stand. The rest of the ground, unrecognisable from when Blackpool bade farewell to the old First Division in 1971, was an ocean of tangerine, bouncing and bobbing. Their optimism appeared justified early on, when the pacy Varney showed why Holloway believes a player surplus to Derby's needs in the Championship has the potential to trouble Premier League defenders. He forced a flying save from Stockdale with a fourth-minute volley and gave Pantsil some awkward moments.
Yet Fulham began to play the smarter, more precise football, with Moussa Dembele dropping cleverly into deep positions to demonstrate why Hughes had given the Belgian his first League start ahead of Clint Dempsey. Blackpool needed last-ditch challenges by Craig Cathcart and Alex Baptiste respectively to thwart Dembele and Simon Davies after Zamora set up both chances.
When Fulham probed again down the right there was no such respite. Damien Duff's pass found Dembele racing clear of Stephen Crainey. From the cross, Zamora powered a header past Matthew Gilks. Charlie Adam strove to coax Blackpool back into the contest, and there were intermittent scares for Fulham. Elliot Grandin thought he had equalised only to find Mike Oliver, the Premier League's youngest-ever referee at the age of 25, had harshly penalised Varney for jumping into Stockdale, having correctly disallowed Brett Ormerod's first-half header for offside.
Fulham's fallibility away from Craven Cottage is no mere statistical anomaly, however. They lacked the killer touch to finish off Blackpool, especially after Zamora's departure, and paid a price for wretched defending as the game entered its final 20 minutes. For the first goal, Varney's shot, after he was played in by Grandin, was deflected first by Aaron Hughes and then, for added comic value, sliced into his own net by Pantsil.
Suddenly, Blackpool resembled an irresistible force. Ormerod picked out Varney's run with a perfectly weighted through-ball. A clinical angled finish did the rest. But with three minutes remaining, Dembele glided past two challenges in midfield before stroking a superb pass into the path of the galloping Etuhu, whose measured shot over the onrushing Gilks ensured a just outcome, if an anticlimactic one for Blackpool's supporters.