DROGBA OFF AS CHELSEA HELD AGAIN
For the fourth consecutive Premiership match, Chelsea was kept scoreless and only a few late saves from Petr Čech prevented our West London neighbours from pinching a late victory. Chelsea were booed off the pitch, our troubles in front of goal returning after the 4-0 win against Hull. The injury to John Terry and the sending off of Didier Drogba rubbed salt into already open wounds.
The back four remained unchanged, so Tal Ben-Haim started again, as did Juliano Belletti. Michael Essien, Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel were all unavailable, so in a case of last man standing, our new dead ball expert Claude Makelélé partnered Steve Sidwell in the centre of midfield. Joe Cole and Salomon Kalou were the wide midfielders; Andriy Shevchenko partnered Didier Drogba up front, the scorer of 33 goals last season, who returned after five games out through injury.
Early on, Chelsea captain John Terry copped an elbow from Clint Dempsey, but after treatment was able to continue. However, he was forced off at half time to be replaced by Alex.
Both Andriy Shevchenko and Joe Cole forced comfortable saves from Keller, as Chelsea looked to break open a stilted first half. Fulham were toothless going forward, Ben-Haim and the injured Terry comfortably dealing with the intermittent threats.
In the 32nd minute, Shevchenko missed a difficult chance. Kalou turned the Fulham right back, Baird, inside out before drilling a low cross into the box where Shevchenko lurked at the near post. The chance was there before he knew it and the Ukrainian could only angle the touch into the side netting. The chance was one of high difficulty, but some would expect more from the 2004 European Footballer of the Year.
Just a minute later, Joe Cole skinned Konchesky, the opposite fullback, and also drilled in a low cross. Drogba looked to have been brought down by Baird as he lunged to meet the cross, but his protests were waved away by the referee. After continuous arguing, Martin Atkinson took down Drogba’s name and showed him a yellow card. Could Avram Grant’s words of wisdom make a difference at half time? The next 45 minutes didn’t endear him to the Chelsea fans greatly.
With Terry off, Drogba took over the captaincy and set up Joe Cole to cross for Kalou in front of goal. The ball deflected off a defender and goalkeeper Keller before hitting the far post. Shevchenko was substituted eight minutes into the half, after yet another ineffective performance. Time is running out for him now, as Claudio Pizarro came on.
Didier Drogba threatened next, brilliantly chesting down a high ball before unleashing a ferocious drive that was beaten away by Keller.
The 58th minute saw yet another Kalou miss, as he headed Ashley Cole’s cross wide. So far this season, Kalou has brought back memories of Mateja Kezman with his poor finishing. Ten minutes later the Ivorian forward missed another, albeit more difficult chance from a Makelélé free kick. Such was the poor quality of our set pieces, the French maestro also ended up taking corners, of better quality than the likes of Joe Cole et al.
Within moments of Kalou’s miss, Joe Cole was slipped through by the Ivorian, but once through on goal his sliding finish trickled wide of the far post. It didn’t seem to be Chelsea’s day. 73 minutes in, stand in captain Didier Drogba was sent off for a boot to the head of Chris Baird. His attempts to control the ball were deemed unfair by referee Atkinson, and he was given his marching orders.
Malouda replaced Ashley Cole as Grant moved to a 3-4-2 formation. Earlier, Bouazza replaced Seol for Fulham and Chelsea old boy Smertin was replaced by Danny Murphy.
Fulham’s first shot on target was from Paul Konchesky, the one time England left back bursting through after Alex lost possession, only for Čech to make a brilliant save. Soon after, our Brazilian centre back moved up front, and another chance was carved out for Fulham, but Kamara took too long and slid his shot wide with Dempsey flying in at the far post. Chelsea survived stoppage time to hold on for a 10 man 0-0 draw.
This result leaves Avram Grant still without a Premiership victory as Chelsea manager, although the red cards for Mikel and Drogba haven’t helped his cause. The bouleversement of the establishment at Chelsea has certainly had an effect on the side and four consecutive games scoreless and winless has heaped the pressure on the former Israel coach, with a European trip to Valencia in midweek sure to increase that pressure. Grant needs to get it together- quickly- if Chelsea is to resurrect their season.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Čech; Belletti, Ben-Haim, Terry (c) (Alex h-t) A Cole (Malouda 76); Makelélé, Sidwell, J Cole, Kalou; Shevchenko (Pizarro 53), Drogba.
Fulham (4-4-2): Keller; Baird, Hughes, Bocanegra, Konchesky; Davies, Smertin (Murphy 81), Davis, Seol (Bouazza 72); Healy (Kamara 67), Dempsey.
Referee Martin Atkinson.