Let me start by having a moan about the bloody traffic down the Fulham Palace Road. What a nightmare. We sat there for so long that in the end we gave up, parked the car, walked up to Hammersmith and got on the tube instead. I am never happy without a little something to moan about and seeing as how there was not much to grumble about with the game — lack of scoring aside — I thought it best to get it out of the way here.
Nice to be back at Loftus Road — sad to think that this is the only way for QPHa to get Premiership football back down the South Africa Road. No improvements since our last visit there — the hot chocolate is still yummy — but there on the pitch I saw a mirage — Winston Bogarde. It was clear that he was not going to be playing as he decided to do little in the warm up other than move from one foot to the other, but at least we know our £40,000 a week is going to a real person.
The game turned out to be very much like the match at the Cottage (remember when Fulham had their own ground?) last season. It lacked the passion of a game against the Gooners or Rottenham, with Fulham clearly more interested in beating us then we ever were about beating them. In terms of both possession and chances on goal, we bossed the first half. Our first real effort came after about twelve minutes, when Zola blasted over from the edge of the box. Ten minutes later the increasingly lazy Hasselbaink had a shot stopped by Van der Sar. Not long after the half hour, Zenden shot wide from a tight angle.
Jimmy Floyd finished the half off by winning a header for the first time against a player whose head I could not quite make out in the clouds. This bloke really was a giant. Our tactics, such as they were, seemed to be getting round the back and pump in high balls for him — Zat Knight I think his name was — and the other rather tall chaps in the defence to head away.
Despite our possession, it was Fulham who could, and maybe should, have gone in at half time one up. They wasted a glorious chance after fifteen minutes when an open goal was somehow avoided by one of their players heading wide. Then Hayles, in the 36th minute, had a clear shot at goal but for some reason blasted high and wide. The best effort of the half though fell to Junichi Inamoto (sure I used to drive one of his cars). A powerful, low shot was brilliantly saved at full stretch by Carlo. We then saw the offside flag hoisted. Whether it would have counted, I know not, but it was a great effort and the only real save of note that Carlo had to make all night.
Second half and the game went a bit flat. It started well when Jimmy Floyd decided to actually run for a ball and flicked it agonisingly wide of the post. Then we had 25 minutes or so of very little football, so we amused ourselves by singing songs to the Fulham fans, who once more failed to sell all their tickets. “One Harvey Nicholls”, “Where were you at Villa Park” and the classic, when Inamoto was subbed, “You’re going home Inamoto” (it sounds okay when you sing it, trust me). The Japanese cameramen in front of us, of whom there were a few, were treated to (in an excellent Japanese accent): “You right as rell go home.”
Fulham tried to stop the fun when one of their players shot wide, his prize being lots of abuse from me as he ran past. Then the Gronk, on as sub for Bolo Zenden, saw his powerful effort well saved by the Van der Sar. Robert Huth — man of the match for me without a doubt — had an excellent effort saved well low down with about seven minutes left. This lad looked very nervous in the pre-season games I saw, but tonight he deserved a goal. He must have enjoyed the chants of: “Huth, Huth, Huth” every time he touched the ball, and surely his confidence will grow after tonight. We look solid in central defence for years to come.
So it ended as a draw, which sitting and thinking about it now was probably about the right result. With the possible exception of Jimmy Floyd, I thought that everyone in the team performed well. We had another glimpse of the awesome skills of our new left back, Stanic. Gallas was a tower in the centre with Huth, and Lampard with Morris looks an ideal combination in the centre with Jody putting in another outstanding display.
Special mention to Paul Durkin, the referee, who really was at the top of his game. No stupid bookings, no daft free kicks. He just let the game flow in a way that other referees would do well to try and aim for.
The team is now up to third place, two clean sheets on the bounce in the league and, for me at least, the season continues to improve. This was Ranieri’s 100th game in charge and he seems to be getting it right at last. How long before we hear his name being chanted round the ground I wonder?
Chelsea line-up: Cudicini — Melchiot, Huth, Gallas, Stanic — De Lucas, Lampard, Morris, Zenden (Gronkjaer, 65) — Zola (Gudjohnsen, 73), Hasselbaink
Unused subs: de Goey, Bogarde, Keenan