The four-game winning run of Championship pace-setters Fulham has now come to an end as they were held to a draw by Blackpool at Craven Cottage, with Marco Silva's side seeing a handful of missed opportunities come back to bite them.
The hosts came flying out of the traps and opened the scoring just six minutes in through Aleksandar Mitrovic, but they squandered their chances thereafter and were made to pay when former Fulham academy prospect summoned up a deft finish for the equaliser. Fulham huffed and puffed as they looked to reimpose their lead, but Neil Critchley's men held firm enough.
The result sees Fulham maintain their five-point gap at the Championship's summit, while Blackpool climb to 13th for the time being.
Story of the game
Coming into the match, Fulham head coach Silva was able to welcome arch marksman Mitrovic as well as Harry Wilson back into the fold after the pair missed the victory at Stoke City last weekend due to illness — it meant Rodrigo Muniz was perhaps harshly benched following his brace in the Potteries. Denis Odoi and Joe Bryan also came into the starting line-up with Kenny Tete injured and Antonee Robinson on international duty with the USA.
Meanwhile, Critchley made two changes to the Blackpool side which defeated Millwall last time out, as Jordan Gabriel and Jordan Thorniley came into defence while Luke Garbutt missed out due to a knee injury and forward Gary Madine was dropped to the bench.
Fulham started brightly, as a searching cross from Odoi was flicked on by Mitrovic and nearly met Neeskens Kebano at the back post, but visiting skipper Marvin Ekpiteta was on hand to clear the denser in the nick of time.
It was all coming down the right flank early on, and Odoi was involved again as he hooked a low cross back onto the penalty spot for Fabio Carvalho, who attempted an audacious back-heel which fell straight into the grateful palms of Daniel Grimshaw.
Such a fast start to the match was soon rewarded as Fulham broke the deadlock just six minutes into the match. It came down the left this time as Kebano picked out Carvalho in acres of space in the box, and the teenager passed across goal for Mitrovic who couldn't miss from a matter of yards out.
The Serbian striker now had his 28th of the season and his teammates wanted to get in on the act, too. Wilson latched onto a ball over the top from Tosin Adarabioyo and attempted an audacious chipped effort which so nearly crept into the net with Grimshaw caught off-guard, bouncing just wide of the far post.
There was a pause to proceedings on the 13-minute mark as medical staff attended to an incident in the Hammersmith End which required the attention of medical staff. The delay lasted all of 40 minutes but play was back underway eventually.
Following the restart, the visitors caused a minor scare when Bowler waltzed his way from the half-way line and into the area, but the winger was outmuscled by Tim Ream and goalkeeper Marek Rodak was able to claim it easily.
Fulham were still dominating here — visibly hungry to exact some measure of revenge over these opponents having lost in the reverse fixture in September — but Blackpool had steadied the ship somewhat and even started creating chances of their own. Callum Connolly summoned up a good free-kick from the edge of the area, attempting a pile-driver in at the far post, but Rodak read it well and punched it clear.
Having navigated a couple of uncomfortable moments, the hosts nearly doubled their advantage when a superb Tom Cairney header from outside the box bounced off the upright. It then dropped for Mitrovic who powered a vicious left-footed effort at goal but Grimshaw was equal to it.
But Blackpool weren't done causing Fulham headaches. Bowler was once again looking bright against his former club, and in the 35th minute he was released down the right again before feinting his way past Tim Ream and cutting inside — his resultant effort left Rodak rooted to the spot, but it clattered off the crossbar and behind for a goal-kick.
Critchley's side had to be constantly wary of the formidable attacking threat of their hosts, but it was becoming increasingly apparent that there was a goal or two in this for them as well.
That formidable attacking threat was shown on the cusp of half-time when Harrison Reed played a sumptuous reverse pass to Wilson darting into the box. The winger saw his first effort saved at close-range by Grimshaw but was granted a second bite at the cherry, volleying back at goal from an awkward position — the goalkeeper got back up well to make a second stop.
So it would remain just 1-0 at half-time, a considerably tighter margin than the 4-1 and 5-2 scorelines in Fulham's last two home matches against Birmingham City and Bristol City respectively, and that was testament to a shrewd performance from Blackpool thus far. The question heading into the second period was whether or not they had the energy and mental fortitude to keep it up against the inevitable onslaught that was to come.
Mitrovic's first action of the second-half was to attempt an audacious volley from a loose ball no less than 35 yards from goal; he'd equalled Blackpool's tally for the season already but was clearly desperate to have it bettered by the end of the match. Not to be on this occasion, though, as the effort soared way high and wide of the target.
Fulham came agonisingly close to extending their lead when Carvalho, man-of-the-match today, was released down the left flank. The forward meandered his way into the area and past Ekpiteta before attempting to catch Grimshaw out at his near post, but it clattered the upright and the chance was gone.
Just moments later they were presented with another opportunity: a corner was flicked on by Mitrovic and looked destined to be landing kindly for Tosin at the near post, but Callum Connolly got a slight touch on the ball to divert it a matter of inches away from the centre-back's attempted header.
But make no mistake, Critchley and the visiting outfit were still very much in this contest. A clever driven pass from Kenny Dougall picked out Jordan Gabriel in the box and the full-back's touch set him up nicely to power an effort across goal, but his cross-cum-shot was met by good reflexes from Rodak.
The next time the Tangerines went forward, they found their breakthrough, just before the hour mark. CJ Hamilton latched onto a loose ball on the left wing and darted into the area before cutting it across goal for Bowler who, once again, netted against his former club.
And Blackpool's plan of action from there on was fairly clear-cut as chances were few and far between for the next 15 minutes thereafter — Fulham were really struggling to break their opponents down and Silva shuffled his pack on 73 minutes with Nathaniel Chalobah and Muniz introduced.
The former went close with his first touch of the game, letting fly with a first-time effort from about 20 yards, but it failed to trouble Grimshaw in goal.
While Blackpool were now threatening less in attacking areas, they still found the odd opening. Hamilton was especially bright in the second-half and again found himself in rooms of space on the left edge of the box before driving an effort at goal, forcing Rodak into a brilliant reaction save at his near post.
The Tangerines held strong in the closing stages to earn a very credible point on the road, but Silva and Fulham will be bitterly disappointed with how the game panned out as their four-game winning run in the league comes to an end.
Fulham: Rodak; Odoi (Knockeart 83'), Tosin, Ream, Bryan; Reed (Chalobah 73'), Cairney [c]; Wilson, Carvalho, Kebano (Muniz 73'); Mitrovic.
Unused subs: Gazzaniga, Hector, Onomah, Cavaleiro.
Blackpool: Grimshaw; Gabriel, Ekpiteta [c], Keogh, Thorniley, Sterling; Bowler, Dougall, Connolly, Hamilton; Lavery (Yates 80').
Unused subs: Moore, Casey, Robson, Dale, Kirk, Madine.
Referee: Peter Bankes