Chelsea’s chances of finishing in the top four were dealt a blow as Clint Dempsey’s late header rescued a point for Fulham in the West London derby.
The Blues never really got going and were handed the leader through Frank Lampard’s penalty at the end of the first half. It was the midfielder’s 150th Premier League goal, the first midfielder the reach the landmark. But the visitors failed to build on their good fortune and although Fulham never really troubled Chelsea, a goal was the least they deserved for their efforts in the second period.
It was a contest that was devoid of tempo and quality throughout, and it was clear that both sides had played just 48 hours earlier. Passes went astray and a real cutting edge was frustratingly absent on both sides, with Fernando Torres cutting a lonesome figure in the Fulham half.
Having opted to start with Salomon Kalou and Ramires as the wide players, Roberto Di Matteo was looking to use pace to hurt the home side, but this ploy failed as neither could get into the game and the set-up left Chelsea very narrow.
In a first half without many clear but opportunities, Chelsea were limit to mainly efforts from distance by Meireles and more surprisingly Mikel. At the other end Petr Cech made a good low save to deny the lively Kerim Frei. The game came to life right on the break when Salomon Kalou and Ryan Bertrand combined to get the Ivorian into the penalty area. Danny Murphy lunged at Kalou and referee Clattenburg said penalty. Lampard did the honours and Chelsea went in with the advantage.
The previously mentioned Bertrand was one of the few bright points on a wet night by the Thames. The young left back kept Chelsea old boy Damien Duff quiet all night and went about his business very well for someone making just his second ever Premier League start.
The second half was a frustrating affair, with Chelsea seemingly content to let Fulham come at them, and although there was a relative comfort in defence, John Arne Riise went close with a curling shot after a burst from the left. Lampard did nearly double Chelsea’s lead with his own left footed drive that whistled past the post with Schwarzer scrambling. You couldn’t keep Lampard out of the action as he had a very good shout for a penalty turned down after a clear push by Hangeland as he raced to meet a Bertrand cross. He then almost turned provider for Kalou, but the Ivorian failed to connect with the header from six yards.
Fulham then began their push for an equaliser and it came inside the last ten minutes from their first telling spell of pressure of the half. A Duff corner was met by Aaron Hughes but Petr Cech produced a stunning reaction save to keep the Blues ahead. The big Czech screamed at his defenders to organise themselves but it wasn’t heard as from the resulting corner Dempsey glanced home via a deflection off Gary Cahill.
After a similar sequence of events against Wigan on Saturday this felt like Chelsea not learning their lessons and letting a side back into a game. Not Champions League qualifying form. The league goes on the back burner for now with Spurs at Wembley next week before the small matter of Barcelona.
There is no doubt that Di Matteo needs to inject some more ruthlessness into the side, as well as some energy and pace. Daniel Sturridge was booed on Saturday but his ability to change a game was clearly missing tonight. Something worth thinking about ahead of two huge games.