Given our meek surrender to Bolton in the League Cup in midweek, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was a point gainted. But, with Chelsea’s disarray after the sacking of Jose Mourinho laid bare on a dramatic afternoon at Stamford Bridge, Didier Drogba sent off and John Terry nursing a fractured cheekbone, Fulham let a glorious opportunity to put one over on their local rivals as Paul Konchesky and Diomansy Kamara missed late chances to seal a famous win.
The home fans were far from happy with the apppointment of Avram Grant and a dire home performance was greeted with several chants in support of ‘the Special One’. Grant’s a capable coach and wasn’t helped by the late withdrawal of the injured Michael Essien. The Israeli’s decision to leave out Florent Malouda didn’t go down well amongst the Chelsea fans either. In truth, a front three of the terribly slow Shevchenko, ponderous Kalou and a raging Drogba, posed Fulham’s previously shaky defence few problems. There should be a word here, too, for Chris Baird. Shamefully barracked by some of his own supporters since he joined from Southampton, the Northern Ireland international, still playing out of position at right back, turned in a splendid performance as Fulham more than matched the home side for endeavour and creativity.
On chances created, you could certainly have made a case for Lawrie Sanchez’s side deserving a half-time lead. Clint Dempsey was unfortunate not to head them in front when he nodded fractionally wide of Petr Cech’s far post and the visitors felt justifiably aggrived when Martin Atkinson turned down a strong penalty appeal for handball against a guilty-looking Tal Ben-Haim. By contrast, Chelsea played in patches. They looked up for the contest at the very start when the lively Joe Cole burst down the right and Saloman Kalou’s scuffed shot was turned onto the post by the diving Kasey Keller, who had replaced the shaky Antti Niemi in the Fulham goal.
But the home side failed to create too many clear cut chances as Fulham looked well-drilled and organised. Terry had to substituted at half time after coming off worse in an aerial duel with Clint Dempsey and it was no surprise when Grant lost patience with Shevchenko, replacing the wretched Ukrainian, who looks well past his best, with Peruvian Claudio Pizarro. Just as Chelsea were beginning to assert themselves on the contest, after Drogba saw a powerful shot parried by Keller and Joe Cole shot narrowly wide, they were reduced to ten men. Drogba, already cautioned for berating the referee for not awarding him a free-kick when he had been challenged by Baird, followed through with his studs into the man of the match’s face. It was a callous challenge and deserving of a straight red.
Grant replaced Ashley Cole with Malouda in a desperate bid to find a winner but his bold move left Chelsea hopelessly short at the back. Konchesky nearly exploited the space when he sprinted clear down the left and Cech scrambled to save with his legs. As time ticked away, Kamara missed an even more presentable chance after sprinting away from Claude Makele. He inexplicably stopped before shooting wide, not that the late miss could prevent thousands of boos ringing out at the final whistle, followed by the inevitable chants for Mourinho. It wouldn’t have made happy viewing for Roman Abramovich who, somewhat unwisely, chose this game to swap his plush director’s box for a seat amongst the fans.
CHELSEA (4-4-3): Cech; Belletti, A. Cole (Malouda 77), Terry (Alex 45), Ben-Haim; Makele, Sidwell, J. Cole; Kalou, Drogba, Shevchenko (Pizarro 54). Subs (not used): Cudicini, Ferreira.
SENT OFF: Drogba (74).
FULHAM (4-4-2): Keller; Baird, Konchesky, Hughes, Bocanegra; Smertin (Murphy 82), Davis, Davies, Seol (Bouazza 73); Dempsey, Healy (Kamara 67). Subs (not used): Niemi, Kuqi.
REFEREE: Martin Atkinson (West Yorkshire).