Despite the efforts of a boisterous home crowd to whip Craven Cottage up into the kind of frenzy that might have created a memorable upset, this was a rather straightforward local assignment for Chelsea. Comfortable on the ball and adventurous with it, they were thoroughly deserving of the two-goal victory given to them by two forwards who many, including a previous incumbent of the Stamford Bridge hotseat, reckon can’t play together. Didier Drogba clinically finished a nice move before half-time to steer them ahead and Nicolas Anelka finished the contest by skating around Mark Schwarzer with a quarter of an hour left.
I’ve read and heard plenty of criticisms of Fulham since the final whistle. The messageboards of full of much the same messages that come after any defeat against Chelsea – that the players didn’t show enough fight or heart. Frankly, I don’t think that was the case. There was plenty of endeavour and lots of willing running (both Bobby Zamora and Damien Duff sprinted fully thirty yards to tackle Chelsea centre backs after they had been robbed off possession), but Fulham were beaten by the better team. Of course, it hurts but there’s no shame in that.
Roy Hodgson’s unflappable manner – he was as dignified as ever in defeat yesterday – probably sometimes conceals his displeasure at performances and he’d be the first to acknowledge that Fulham never really got going yesterday afternoon. Clint Dempsey might have had the first sniff of goal, a rising drive from the edge of the box that comfortably cleared Petr Cech’s crossbar, but it was the closest Fulham were to get for quite a while. Chelsea’s midfield trio controlled proceedings and the ineffectual Danny Murphy cut a disconsolate figure when he limped off before the end, with an injury that must make him a doubt for this week’s trip to Russia.
Hodgson’s tactics didn’t really work here either. Dempsey and Zamora were often so far part they could have been waving at each other from opposite sides of the busy London Paddington concourse. You got the sense the American wasn’t really sure where he was supposed to do playing: should he have joined Zamora as an orthodox centre-forward or floated behind him, in what seems to be his favoured position. It didn’t really matter as they spent most of them with their backs to goal wrestling to keep hold of the ball. Against a slow Chelsea central defence, we really needed some pace and guile. Instead, Fulham were rudderless – lumbering forward more in home than expectation.
Our inability to get a foothold in the contest rendered the inclusion of Duff, anxious to make an impression against his former employers, somewhat academic. The Irishman tried gallantly but his frustration was evident in the manner that he scampered across the midfield looking to become more involved in proceedings. Zoltan Gera was peripheral again, struggling to beat his man, knocking passes sideways or struggle to outjump Ashley Cole when the ball was pumped forward.
The goals, when they came were nicely worked. The first was a killer coming so close to half time when you just thought Fulham had managed to withstand most of the pressure. Frank Lampard, a man whose last bad game against us might have been when he missed several chances in the 1-0 victory back in 2006, started it, Anelka and Malouda made telling contributions and suddenly Drogba was clean through. He rolled the ball effortlessly across Schwarzer and into the corner.
Much like at the start of the first period, Fulham had a little period of pressure just after the break. Frustratingly, it came to nought and there was an air of desperation about our sporadic attacks after that. Drogba was denied twice by Schwarzer before Chelsea prized open the Fulham defence once move and Anelka showed commendable composure to draw the Fulham goalkeeper out and round him before slipping home the second.
Hodgson spoke afterwards of a tired side, which must be a worry since we are still in August. The arrival of Jonathan Greening should give us another option in midfield, but a striker remains his immediate priority. Perm and that plastic pitch are up next.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Konchesky, Hughes, Hangeland; Etuhu, Murphy (Baird 70), Gera (Kamara 62), Duff; Zamora (Nevland 75), Dempsey. Subs (not used): Zuberbuhler, Kelly, Seol Ki-Hyeon, Riise.
CHELSEA (4-1-3-2): Cech; Bosingwa (Hutchinson 86), A. Cole, Carvalho, Terry; Mikel; Ballack, Lampard (Deco 81), Malouda; Drogba, Anelka. Subs (not used): Turnbull, Ivanovic, Essien, Kalou, Sturridge.
GOALS: Drogba (39), Anelka (76).
REFEREE: Andre Marriner