Fulham were unable to provide a fairytale finish to their FA Cup run as they found this FA Cup semi-final against near neighbours Chelsea a bridge too far. This tie between clubs barely two miles apart in south west London was staged on a Sunday evening at Villa Park – a baffling decision that appeared only to make sense to the Football Association – and led to a strangely subdued atmosphere for a derby that struggled to get going. Fulham’s football was fitful rather than fluent and Jean Tigana’s side were punished for a lack of cutting edge when John Terry headed home the winner from a set piece just before the break – despite Louis Saha’s best efforts to clear the danger.

Chelsea squandered several chances to extend their advantage in the second half, with Fulham rueing the fact that they failed to make the most of plenty of possession. Claudio Ranieri, a polarising figure amongst the Blues fanbase with his regular tinkering, becomes the third foreign head coach to reach the Cup final in the last six years following in the footsteps of Ruud Gullit and Gianluca Vialli – although this victory was forged more through steel than style. They will need to be better to beat Arsenal in Cardiff in May.

Ranieri was forced into a reorganisation in only the third minute when England full-back Graeme Le Saux picked up an innocuous injury as he fell the ground under no pressure, clutching his hamstring. Chelsea made the brighter start with Terry forcing a fine save from Edwin van der Sar with a venomous volley, before Carlo Cudicini did even better to deny Sylvain Legwinski when the Frenchman fired towards the top corner from eight yards after a lovely one-two with Steve Marlet.

Mario Stanic sauntered past a pair of Fulham defenders before being thwarted by the legs of van der Sar, but the Whites were beaten from the ensuing corner. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s flag kick struck Mario Melchiot and fell kindly for Terry, whose effort crept over the line despite Saha desperately trying to clear. Chances were at a premium for the rest of a tense contest and, although Fulham enjoyed more of the ball, they struggled to put the opposition defence under periods of prolonged pressure. The closest they came saw John Collins embark on a mazy dribble reminiscent of Ricky Villa but the Scottish midfielder opted for a pass when space opened up in the penalty area.

Ranieri’s men still looked the likelier to increase their lead. Emmanuel Petit lashed a drive wide of goal before Eidur Gudjohnsen rattled the post with a curler that left van der Sar grasping at thin air midway through the second period. The Icelandic forward then wasted two great chances to make sure of Chelsea’s progress to the final in Cardiff, first blazing over the bar when put through by winger Jesper Gronkjaer and then screwing an effort wide when he also only had the Fulham goalkeeper to beat.

Tempers frayed in the final ten minutes with Petit and Terry squaring up to Sean Davis amongst others before Fulham finally pushed belatedly for an equaliser. Luis Boa Morte drove wildly off target and Marlet nodded disappointingly onto the roof of the net as Fulham’s hopes of forcing this tense encounter into extra time evaporated.

FULHAM (4-4-2): van der Sar; Finnan, Brevett, Goma, Melville; Davis, Collins (Boa Morte 65), Malbranque, Legwinski (Hayles 87); Saha, Marlet. Subs (not used): Taylor, Knight, Ouaddoh.

BOOKED: Finnan, Boa Morte.

CHELSEA (4-3-3): Cudicini; Melchiot, Le Saux (Ferrer 4), Desailly, Terry; Petit, Lampard, Stanic (Zenden 75); Gronkjaer, Hasselbaink (Jokanovic 85), Gudjohnsen. Subs (not used): de Goey, Zola.

BOOKED: Ferrer, Gronkjaer.

GOAL: Terry (42).

REFEREE: Graham Poll (Dorset).