HERR BALLACK INSPIRES CHELSEA SQUADDIES
Chelsea defeated London neighbours Fulham in a tame clash at Craven Cottage. The match marked Roy Hodgson’s first match in charge of Fulham, although the result didn’t help the cause of his side, who are in real danger of relegation.
Avram Grant, satisfied with Chelsea’s performance against Newcastle last time out, made just one change, Steve Sidwell replacing Jon Obi Mikel, although the latter was to make a valuable contribution after his introduction. Roy Hodgson refrained from making wholesale changes, preferring to assess the team at his disposal.
Diomansy Kamara had a very early chance for Fulham; however Hilario proved to be equal to the cause making a smart save down low. Soon after, Niemi was forced into his first save of the match for Fulham, denying Salomon Kalou.
It was after eight minutes, that Fulham took the lead. Moritz Volz was tripped in the penalty area by a backtracking Joe Cole; referee Mark Halsey pointing to the spot. Danny Murphy sent Hilario the wrong way to give Fulham the advantage.
The middle part of the first half saw both sides fail to exert any real pressure. Chelsea lacked control and Fulham, attacking firepower.
On 32 minutes Fulham had a set piece opportunity. Ben-Haim gave away the free kick 25 yards out, but Murphy shot well over. The half came to a close with Joe Cole’s shot saved by the Fulham goalkeeper.
Evidently, Avram Grant had strong words for the Chelsea players at half time and this lead to the withdrawal of Steve Sidwell, replaced by Jon Obi Mikel. His composure and calm distribution was the catalyst for Chelsea’s second half blitz.
Chelsea should have had a penalty five minutes into the second half when Wright-Phillips’ cross hit the arm of Dejan Stefanovic, but the referee was unmoved. Three minutes later, parity was restored. It came from the head of Salomon Kalou, scoring his seventh goal of the season. Belletti’s corner was knocked down by Alex, leaving the Ivorian the simple task of nodding home from close range.
Seven minutes later, Chelsea took the lead. Referee Halsey gave a penalty at the same end that Murphy converted from, after Michael Ballack had his shirt pulled by Clint Dempsey. Chelsea’s stand-in captain stepped up and thundered the penalty into the bottom corner.
The German, so impressive since his return from injury, went close to adding to the lead in the 67th minute, but his free kick was curled a yard or so wide. A trio of Fulham substitutes followed, amongst them, Chelsea old boy Alexei Smertin. They were each to have little outcome on the result, however.
David Healy volleyed goal wards from just outside the area, but the shot flew over the crossbar of Hilario’s goal. There were seven minutes remaining.
Claudio Pizarro, disappointing of late, made a late appearance and had a difficult chance that he volleyed wide. Paulo Ferreira replaced Joe Cole as the match petered out.
Full time saw Chelsea’s Festive period end with 10 points gained out of a possible 12, the only two dropped in the Thriller against Villa. Avram Grant’s José-esque half time rollicking certainly had an impact on Chelsea, as they swiftly dismantled Fulham early in the second half. Finally now, there is some respite for the Chelsea side as the frequency of the matches slows and the wounded return to battle, with the Blues still well and truly in contention to win the war.
Fulham (4-4-2): Niemi; Omozusi, Bocanegra, Stefanovic (c), Konchesky; Volz (Seol 67), Murphy, Davis (Smertin 69), Davies; Dempsey, Kamara (Healy 76).
Chelsea (4-3-3): Hilario; Belletti, Alex, Ben-Haim, Bridge; Sidwell (Mikel h-t), Essien, Ballack(c); Wright-Phillips (Pizarro 87), Kalou, J Cole (Ferreira 90).
Referee Mark Halsey. Crowd 25,357