Chelsea 0-0 Fulham: Player ratings

Fulham competed from first minute to the last at Stamford Bridge last night – and executed Martin Jol’s gameplan effortlessly. The Dutchman described the game as his ‘perfect scenario’ in his post-match Sky Sports interview and you could see what he meant. The Whites were quickly into their stride, taking advantage of the local discontent at the presence of Rafa Benitez in the home dugout, kept things tight at the back and looked dangerous on the break. So successful were Fulham that there’s more than a tinge of regret that the visitors couldn’t end their 33-year wait for a win at the Bridge.

Schwarzer: It was a measure of how surprisingly comfortable Fulham’s evening was that the Australian had very little to do. He fielded a speculative shot from Torres with consummate ease in the first half and was able to comfortably gather Ramires’ speculative stab from ten yards in the second half. The only time Schwarzer, who organised his defence expertly throughout, looked to be beaten the outstanding Aaron Hughes arrived to hook Torres’ shot clear from underneath his own bar. 7

Riether: The German’s fast becoming Fulham’s most reliable right back since Steve Finnan, even though he hasn’t yet matched compatriot Moritz Volz’s feat of scoring at Stamford Bridge. Riether was resolute in defence, seeing Eden Hazard substituted as Chelsea searched for a breakthrough, and was eager to surge forward. Had Mladen Petric not only just left the bench himself, the on-loan Cologne full-back might have made the winner. 8

Riise: Like Paul Konchesky before him, Riise will have to get over spurning a splendid chance to turn a creditable point into all three. Having galloped fully ninety yards to reach the Chelsea six-yard box, the away fans waited for Riise to finish a flowing break that began in Fulham’s own penalty area, but he failed to make a telling connection. Cech did well to save a deflected strike, but the left back’s wait for his first goal will go into a 57th game. Diligent defensively, but will wonder what could have been. 7

Hughes: Outstanding. Dependable. Flawless. Pick a glowing adjective and it will describe the Northern Irish centre back’s fautless display last night. In the absence of Brede Hangeland, Fulham’s centre halves needed to assert themselves against Fernando Torres and Hughes, for so long the unsung hero of this team, rose to the occasion. Rarely beaten in the air against a taller forward, Hughes was composed in cutting out the danger – twice blocking shots in his own box – before lunging to divert Torres’ effort to safety when it flashed worryingly across goal. 9

Senderos: The Swiss defender has a vocal band of detractors but his sins in a Fulham shirt have been difficult to identify. Having struggled on this ground in the past against Didier Drogba (who didn’t?), Senderos was exactly the physical presence Jol would have sought in the centre of his defence without Hangeland and didn’t put a foot wrong until added time, when a dreadful back header almost let in Ramires. The doubters should give Senderos, who has played two and a half games since April, credit for his part in a precious clean sheet. 7

Diarra: The Malian is such a key component of Jol’s team, with his ability to read the game, carry the ball forward and do the physical stuff, that even when he’s lacking match sharpness – as was clearly the case last night – he’s worth starting on the big nights. Diarra’s presence screening the back four denied the space Oscar and Hazard they craved, but he also forged a successful partnership with Steve Sidwell to keep the ball and dictate the tempo. Brought off as he started to tire after the hour. 7

Sidwell: It was fitting that Sidwell, who passed along the Fulham Road at the speed of a 211 on a non-matchday after a frustrating spell at Chelsea earlier in his career, produced his finest performance in a Fulham shirt at the home of his former employers. The ‘Ginger Iniesta’ scurried across midfield, timed his tackles impeccably, and was clearly up for the contest from the first whistle. He comfortably outfought Oriel Romeu and were it for not the excellence of Hughes, would have been my man of the match. 8

Duff: Restored to the starting line-up against his old club and Duff delivered exactly what you’ve come to expert: a whole-hearted effort, full of running and plenty of defensive work – none more important than when he stabbed a loose ball behind as he dropped beyond the far post. The Irish winger was offensive enough to keep Ashley Cole back in his own half for long periods, a crucial ingredient for Fulham’s success as the visitors looked to assert themselves. 7

Rodallega: An ineffectual and infuriating display from the former Latic, who failed to seize his opportunity to shine on the left flank. Used his height well against Cesar Azpilicueta but failed to attack the Spanish full-back or offer any real threat out wide. Rodallega looked slightly more dangerous when played through the middle, but even Dimitar Berbatov was perturbed by the Colombian’s enigmatic display judging by the Fulham skipper’s sixty seconds of berating him after an attack broke down in the second half. 6

Karagounis: Playing the Greek veteran at the point of Fulham’s attacking midfield triangle was a masterstroke from Jol. Karagounis ran his heart out and was far more effective than when he looked isolated as a left winger at Stoke; crucially, dropping back to form a third orthodox central midfielder when the Whites were under pressure. His pass to release Riise midway through the second half was the ball of the night and went off to a full-throated rendition of his jolly little song. 7

Berbatov: Brilliant without being devastating once again, Berbatov led the team rather than just the forward line last night. Rather like Alistair Cook, Berbatov seems to thrive on the captaincy and was a livewire throughout – completing fifteen more passes and enjoying double the number of touches as Torres, despite costing only a tenth of the Spaniard’s transfer fee. Had the assistant referee not wrongly raised his flag when the Bulgarian burst through on goal, he might have put Fulham in front. His only black mark came in injury time when his baffling decision to receive a short corner gifted Chelsea a last chance to come forward. 8

Substitutes

Baird: The Ballymena boy’s absence from the starting line-up was harsh as Baird’s arguably been Fulham’s most consistent performer since stepping into central midfield in September. Afforded a rousing reception as he replaced Diarra, ‘Bairdinho’ battered a free-kick shot at Cech but stepped seamlessly into the Malian’s role anchoring Fulham’s midfield and picked out a couple of impressive forward passes. 7

Frei: The Turkish teenager likes playing Chelsea and his fearlessness seemed to enliven Fulham as he exploded back into the first team. He dribbled away from Azpilicueta twice in two minutes, beating him on both sides, and on another evening might have won a spot-kick for the second season in succession after being caught by Ramires. Just as importantly, he showed great awareness to tee up Riise’s deflected effort, and it’s great to see such a terrific talent back in a Fulham shirt. Why didn’t Cardiff use him more during his month in the Championship? The Bluebirds’ loss is certainly Fulham’s game. 7

Petric: A late replacement for Rodallega but the Croatian striker – perhaps the most natural finisher at Motspur Park at the moment – couldn’t react quickly enough to convert the only chance that came his way when he miscontrolled Riether’s excellent cross. 6

I should have scored, says Riise

John Arne Riise admitted he should have taken at least one of his two second chances in last night’s goalless draw at Chelsea.

The Norwegian left back sprinted fully ninety yards to take a rapid Fulham counter-attack into the Chelsea penalty area ten minutes into the second half at Stamford Bridge but having latched onto Giorgis Karagounis’ raking pass failed to find the necessary power to beat Petr Cech. The Czech custodian was then able to turn aside a trademark Riise piledriver at his near post as the Whites pressed for a late winner.

I should have scored at least one. But I had a bad first control and the second one was a deflection and a great save by Petr. With that first chance I think I ran about 90 yards so I was quite tired by the end! I tried to chest it down to take the shot but the control was too close to my body and I couldn’t get a shot off, so I was disappointed.

Riise wasn’t surprised by Fulham’s competitive showing last night – pointing out that Fulham have always performed well away against their rivals in recent years – and last night’s point extended their unbeaten run in the SW6 derby to five games.

We’ve done well at the Bridge in recent years. It was a great team performance; we showed character and worked hard for each other and we’re really pleased with how we played the game.

We knew that the Chelsea team had a little bit of pressure on them before the match so we knew they probably needed to win to keep the fans happy, but our fans were simply fantastic. We heard them all game and especially in the second half when we had a few chances right in front of them; it was great support.

Riise played a full part in a disciplined defensive display as Chelsea’s attacking threats were nullified and Martin Jol’s gameplan was executed expertly.

We knew that they have some great players up front; technical players who like to see a pass that nobody else can see, so we needed to be compact. The back four worked really hard, the midfield worked really hard and also the guys up front, so it was a great team performance.

There was none of this season’s familiar frailty from either cross or set pieces as Fulham’s rearguard, led by the exceptional Aaron Hughes, stood firm throughout.

We stuck together and we knew they were going to try and get some crosses in. But we worked hard and we made so many blocks, it was unbelievable. They had shots from 20 yards and five yards but we blocked every single one so as a team we were happy and I think the gaffer was happy as well.

Baird ‘chuffed’ with his late impact

Chris Baird touches home the winner from John Arne Riise's corner

Fulham’s late matchwinner Chris Baird was ‘chuffed’ with his late goal that guided Fulham past a dogged Aston Villa side at Craven Cottage earlier today – and admitted that the Whites weren’t quite themselves for much of the contest.

Baird made little attempt to hide his delight in front of the Sky cameras afterwards and his joy spilled over in the exuberant celebrations in front of the Hammersmith End after the goal too.

It’s fantastic. Really chuffed to get the goal for myself but obviously for the team as well as a vital three points for us. It was just frustrating for myself on a personal note and actually when I scored it all came out and we held on to eventually get the win.

Martin Jol’s side enjoyed far more of the possession and controlled long passages of the play but it took a typical near post run from the Northern Ireland international to break the deadlock with six minutes remaining, even if Baird was honest enough to reveal that John Arne Riise mishit the corner from which he scored. The Ballymena-born utility man was also candid about how the game appeared to be drifting towards a disappointing draw before his late strike.

It looked like they were going to frustrate us and it felt that way during the game. It was really frustrating for us as we couldn’t play our stuff but in the end, no matter how you play, if we get the win then we’ll not complain.

Three points is three points at the end of the day. Some games you play really well and you lose, or vice versa; you play badly and you win. Today, I just don’t think we were quite ourselves – I don’t know what the reasons were, but it’s three points and I’m happy for us.

Baird’s professionalism and resilience have seen him overcome a torrid start to his Fulham career and he’s now firmly established as a Craven Cottage favourite. It was fitting that the former Southampton man marked his 150th appearance with his third goal for the club after stepping into the midfield role once again having been on the fringes of the first team for much of Jol’s fifteen months in charge.

 It’s nice to hear the chants [of ‘We’ve got Bairdinho’ from the Fulham fans]. I was due a goal as obviously the two I scored were at Stoke [in December 2010]. I always make that front post run so I thought I’d try it again and luckily it fell for me, I got a good touch on it and it went in so I’m happy for myself and for the team.

Jol has always admired Baird’s qualities and is delighted with the 30 year-old’s verstaility that sees him able to deputise for more established names either across the back four or in midfield. The manager was full of praise for Baird’s qualities after another outstanding performance.

I explained that we needed a new identity in midfield and that he could help me and he did that because he’s a good football player. Last year he played right-back and centre-back but I’m very pleased that he’s so versatile and could do that job for us – he’s very important for us. He’s probably on top of his game and that’s what we needed today.

He’s doing so well and that means he’s always in consideration in my mind to play him because he’s becoming more and more important for us and that is good because my midfield must be good.

Baird himself believes the future’s bright down by the Thames, especially with the return from injury of the likes of Dimitar Berbatov and Mladen Petric, who were back in the starting line-up against Villa, and the swift recovery of Mahmadou Diarra, who replaced the Croatian forward after an hour and made a telling impact from the bench.

It bodes well. We’ve got a very strong squad now as there are players who had injuries coming back and doing well. That can only mean good things for us and good competition for everyone so it’s going to be a really good next couple of games for us.

Three and easy

It took only 57 seconds for Kevin Nolan to lash the Hammers' ahead yesterday

I always enjoy my trips to West Ham. There’s a historical bond between the clubs that stretches beyond Bobby Moore and 1975 to the likes of Leroy Rosenior and, even more recently, Andy Melville and Luis Boa Morte. More than that, though, the Hammers are a reminder of what football used to be like: a proper club that hasn’t forgotten its roots at the heart of London’s East End and embodies the blueprint that Trevor Brooking is now trying implement across the country for the Football Association after his education at the Boleyn Ground.

Unfortunately, Fulham are far too accommodating almost every time the Whites make the short trip down the District Line. Just as we’ve become accustomed to wretched away showings in the top flight these days, I’m probably a bit too blase about Fulham’s appalling record at Upton Park. Statistically speaking, West Ham are the side who average more points against us than any other since Jean Tigana guided Fulham back to English football’s elite at the turn of the millennium. Furthermore, we’ve mustered just two paltry wins at West Ham in that time – one was on our very first Premier League visit in 2001 and the other was a surprise FA Cup replay success, sparked by a wondergoal from Brian McBride, that perked up a hospitalised Chris Coleman four years later. But, for the most part, our performances at West Ham have been gallant failures or gutsy draws: like the late point secured by Phillipe Christanval after Vincenzo Montella made his debut from the bench. The memory of Junior Stanislas’ speculative injury-time effort taking a hefty deflection off Aaron Hughes and wrong-footing Mark Schwarzer just as we dared to dream that Roy Hodgson’s ten man might break the West Ham hoodoo in 2009 still lingers in the back of my brain.

As I wrote yesterday in the lead-up to the first London derby of the campaign, setting the right tone early was crucial. Sam Allardyce wrote in the programme yesterday about the atmosphere and frenzied pace of a meeting between two sides from the capital – this was the first of ten such clashes this season for both sides – and the Hammers’ boss will have identified this as a home banker in his quest to garner enough points to keep the Hammers well clear of the dreaded drop zone. On yesterday’s performance, the Irons look more like top ten contenders – but that might have had a fair bit to do with West Ham’s desire to respond immediately to their forgettable South Wales sojourn as well as Fulham’s generous defending.

Going behind to the fastest goal of the season might not have been in Martin Jol’s plans, but you know he would have seen it coming. Andy Carroll, who cantered around like a carefree schoolboy let out of lessons early in the warm-up, looked like a man instantaneously free of the pressure created by that hefty £35m price tag placed around his shoulders when Liverpool opted for him to replace Fernando Torres. When a manager and his team-mates believe in him and the side is constructed to his strengths, as he showed for the Anfield outfit at the tail end of last season and during his commanding display for Roy Hodgson’s England against Sweden this summer, Carroll is almost irresistible. The fact that his great mate Kevin Nolan is his captain again at West Ham probably helped clinch a loan move the old-fashioned number nine needed to reignite his career – and it was almost scripted that the pair would combine for the opening goal.

That Fulham conceded from the first high ball they had to deal with set the tone for the afternoon. Allardyce’s plans all came to fruition. Carroll, given the chance to contest a hopeful header from the back with a run at a static Brede Hangeland, soared high and flicked the ball beyond the Norwegian centre half. That allowed Ricardo Vaz Te, so lethal during West Ham’s promotion season last year, to saunter into the box beyond Aaron Hughes and his clever flick caught Sasha Riether out of position and Nolan arrived to send a first-time volley across Mark Schwarzer from twelve yards. 57 seconds was it all took – it was simply too straightforward.

Where West Ham were on the front foot and rampaging forward at will, Fulham were fitful. When the Whites did have possession (and they enjoyed slightly more of the ball than their hosts overall) they frequently squandered it and Mladen Petric was so starved of service that it seemed slightly harsh to withdraw him at half time. The visitors certainly didn’t make enough of Joey O’Brien’s presence as a makeshift left back: twice in the first twenty minutes, Damien Duff beat him with ease but Fulham to give the intelligent Irish winger the ball enough to exploit that weakness.

Instead, the only weaknesses were at the heart of a usually impregnable Fulham defence. The second goal was so sloppily conceded from a set-piece it left me – never mind Jol and his coaching staff – seething with rage. Fulham failed to screen the near post sufficently, Schwarzer should have been more decisive in his six-yard box to connect with Matt Taylor’s inswinging corner and a man of Winston Reid’s aerial ability was given far too much freedom to bend his run and power a header into the centre of the goal.

Coming back from 2-0 down is difficult but not impossible, especially when you consider that Jol had a fair bit of attacking talent to introduce from the bench. The third goal was perhaps the most frustrating of the lot. Mahamadou Diarra might have had a case for being impeded by Andy Carroll at this set-play but a man who has graced the Champions’ League with distinction and made all those appearances for Real Madrid should simply be stronger in that situation in front of a burly centre forward. Hangeland’s header away was clumsy but Fulham failed to close down Taylor from the sort of range where he’s been a menace for years – and paid the penalty.

There was a lot of opprobrium in the away end by this point and poor old Kieran Richardson, once a West Ham youngster, was the target of much of it. This was unfair. Richardson’s an excellent footballer, quietly efficient in midfield, and showed enough ambition to muster Fulham’s first shot on target, which really extended Jaaskelainen down to his left. Given that the versatile midfielder, good enough to be considered worth a serious run in Sven-Goran Eriksson’s England side when he broke through at Old Trafford, had hardly trained with his new team-mates after concluding a late switch from Sunderland yesterday, it was a big call to put him in central midfield alongside Steve Sidwell. Richardson, a willing worker and technically sound, will be far better than what he showed yesterday afternoon and is a real bargain at around £2m.

Fulham were far better in the second half once Dimitar Berbatov was introduced, although West Ham were in cruising mode by this point. The Bulgarian looked eager to make an impression, almost as if he was aggrieved to have to sit through the abject first forty five minutes (you weren’t the only one, Dimitar). His first touch was as resplendent as we remember and there were all the clever flicks and tricks to bring his team-mates into play. It was all a little academic but in a single half of football, Berbatov made five chances and that makes him our second most creative player of the season.

Whilst the defending was abject and the defeat proved a painful reminder of why anything more than mid-table is far too ambitious before Jol manages to cure Fulham’s chronic away form, there’s enough to suggest that the Whites won’t struggle for creativity going forward post-Dempsey and Dembele. Anyone suggesting that the Whites looked devoid of dynamism yesterday is right, of course, but should remember that Bryan Ruiz was ruled out with a hamstring injury. The Costa Rican has looked superb behind a lone striker after completing a full pre-season and Berbatov’s arrival will mean that Mladen Petric might have to play out wide. That creates competition for places and I felt Alex Kacaniklic was unfortunate to dropped after his fine start plus there’s Kerim Frei to return from injury.

We might have been well beaten at the Boleyn Ground – but that’s not unusual. In 1968, a side containing George Cohen as well as the late Johnny Haynes and Sir Bobby Robson were battered 7-2. Most Fulham fans would have taken three points from the first three games, considering that they included trips to Manchester United and West Ham. The season’s not decided in September, although Jol will be wanting his new-look side to set the record straight against West Brom after the international break.

Flawless Fulham canter past the Canaries

Damien Duff slides Fulham's first goal past John Ruddy at the Putney End

Poor old Norwich City. Every time they travel to Craven Cottage they seem to relive the same nightmare. They came with genuine hope of pulling off the impossible back in 2005 with a win on the final day of the season the only way they could prolong their all too brief stay in the top flight under Nigel Worthington. Fulham, with lean, mean Brian McBride playing party pooper, dispatched their with such disdain it was almost cruel and unusual. It was much closer in March when Paul Lambert’s side looked well beaten after two early strikes from Clint Dempsey and Damien Duff, but threatened to pinch a point after Aaron Wilbraham’s spirited riposte with thirteen minutes to play.

On another roasting summer’s afternoon alongside the Thames, there was clear water between these two sides by half time. Fulham, with just one defeat in a pre-season campaign that was all about finessing Martin Jol’s revamp of the club’s footballing philosophy, had the game settled by half time. There was no American to torment the Canaries, with McBride limited to cameos for Wembley FC, and Dempsey persona non grata after attempting to force through away from the Cottage in the wake of a truly astonishing twelve months of football.

On the flanks were one evergreen Irishman in Damien Duff, who opened the scoring with a sumptuous finish after sprinting onto a raking crossfield ball from John Arne Riise which Mark Tiereney decided to admire along with the rest of the Riverside Stand, and Fulham’s newest international in Alex Kacaniklic, who underscored the potential he showed as a Melwood junior, with his first senior Premier League goal only three days after coming off the bench for his Swedish debut against Brazil. Fulham’s four summer additions all featured with Mladen Petric grabbing a couple on his Premier League debut, Sascha Riether raiding forward from right back, Hugo Rodallega winning a penalty from the bench and Mahamadou Diarra, who made his short-term switch permanent over the close season, delivering the kind of imperious display that convinced Real Madrid to make him their big-money replacement for Claude Makelele. In these times when we’re asked to make every penny count, the fact that Martin Jol has yet to spent any of Mohamed Al Fayed’s millions and has strengthened considerably since last season’s surge in the final furlong is commendable.

Not that Chris Hughton enjoyed his chastening reintroduction to life as a top flight manager. The Canaries hadn’t looked particularly porous during a tight opening 25 minutes, limiting Fulham’s flowing one-touch football to a few snapshots from distance until the end of the first quarter. Bryan Ruiz, playing in the inside forward role that was Johnny Haynes’ for a decade, buzzed around with a frenetic energy that has only intensified during his first full pre-season in England.

The Costa Rican might have opened the scoring with an impudent chip over John Ruddy after the England keeper had mishit a clearance but the man handed his international opportunity by Roy Hodgson in Bern was equal to efforts from Riise and Ruiz from the edge of the box. He might have felt he should have prevented Duff’s dinked finish from rolling in off the far post having seen the ball spin away off his right foot, but any opprobrium should be saved for the way his back four allowed Riise’s sixty yard diagonal pass afford Duff a sprint through on goal. The thirty-three year-old has now scored in thirteen top flight campaigns since 1997-98, a record only bettered by Robbie Keane, Alan Shearer, Gary Speed, Andrew Cole, Ryan Giggs and his compatriot Robbie Keane.

Petric, who needed no introduction to the Fulham faithful after his fierce free-kick at the Hammersmith End threatened to ruin Fulham’s big night in the Europa League three years ago, continued his clinical conversion rate with a glancing header from a Duff corner three minutes before the break. There was no need for the goal-line technology even Sepp Blatter’s so keen on, assistant referee Charles Breakspear’s alertness swiftly informing  Michael Oliver that Jonny Howson’s attempt to clear before his own crossbar took place inside the net.

Hughton was pair enough to pair Steve Morison, who might have moved from Millwall to Craven Cottage rather than Carrow Road in the January window a couple of years, with the isolated Grant Holt for the second period but his back four failed to heed his half-time words about the need to regain their discipline. The Canaries allowed Ruiz and Petric far too much room to operate in 25 yards from goal and were punished courtesy of the former Hamburg forward’s left foot, with Ruddy a spectator after the ball spun off Michael Turner into the opposite corner.

Norwich’s rearguard were left looking even more leaden footed by a move straight off the Motspur Park training board. Another of Moussa Dembele’s mesmorising dribbles created the space for a lovely triangle between Ruiz, Petric and Kacaniklic. The Croatian’s cute backheel gave the Swede the chance to skip away from a horribly square defence and steer a low shot beyond the helpless Ruddy – which was a fitting reward for Kacaniklic’s energetic display. A fifth arrived from the penalty spot after Turner needlessly felled Hugo Rodallega after Norwich tried to play their way out of trouble from the edge of their own box and the spot-kick was comprehensively converted by Steve Sidwell, who took out twelve months of injury frustration on the ball, a few minutes after arriving as a substitute.

Mark Schwarzer was a virtual spectator for much of the contest called upon to make only two saves, although his late stop from Bradley Johnson’s dipping drive was worthy of the clean sheet that took him above David Seaman into second place on the Premier League’s all-time tally behind only David James. Craven Cottage, soon to be expanded to a 30,000 capacity, can’t have seen many better starts to a season than this. Delia Smith and Chris Hughton will be glad it’ll be at least twelve months since they have to return for a league fixture.

FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Schwarzer; Riether, J.A. Riise, Hughes, Hangeland; Diarra, Dembélé; Duff (Kasami 74), Kacaniklic, Ruiz (Sidwell 81); Petri?  (Rodallega 68). Subs (not used): Stockdale, Kelly, Halliche, Baird.

GOALS: Duff (26), Petric (41, 54), Kacaniklic (66), Sidwell (pen 87).

NORWICH CITY (4-5-1): Ruddy, R. Martin, Turner, R. Bennett, Tierney; B. Johnson, Howson, Surman (Morison 45), Pilkington, Snodgrass (E. Bennett 56); Holt (Hoolahan 77). Subs (not used): Rudd, Barnett, Lappin, Vaughan.

REFEREE: Michael Oliver (Northumberland).

ATTENDANCE: 25,062.