A last-minute penalty save from Peter Cech denied Fulham a famous victory at Craven Cottage tonight. It might have been a robbery that Mark Hughes’ men managed to pull it off after the Whites were outplayed for large portions of the derby, but Clint Dempsey will still be disappointed at failing from twelve yards after he had been brought down by David Luiz. His decision to try and bicycle kick the rebound home, with Eidur Gudjohsen – who might have taken the spot-kick himself – was just as infuriating.
Chelsea will reflect on this result just as ruefully. Carlo Ancelotti proclaimed afterwards that his side were fully deserving of the three points, but failure to beat their near neighbours will probably end all discussion of their title credentials. Fernando Torres was particularly wasteful, a heavy touch preventing him from profiting on a fine through ball from Luiz, and a poor header flew high over the bar after Ramires had opened up the Fulham defence. Michael Essien went close with a header as it looked like there was only going to be one winner as the visitors laid siege to Mark Schwarzer’s goal.
But, against the run of play, it was Fulham who squandered the best chance to settle the contest. Luiz, a rock at the heart of the Chelsea defence all evening, lunged in at Dempsey inside the box – and Mike Dean pointed to the spot. Dempsey took the responsibility himself, but he blasted the penalty almost straight at Cech and then acrobatically fired the rebound well over the crossbar.
Chelsea had dominated possession from the outset, with Torres paired with Nicolas Anelka up front, but Fulham had the first sight of goal when Damien Duff drove down the right and pulled back a cross for Andy Johnson, only for Luiz to intervene in the nick of time. The Irish international, looking dangerous against his old club, almost surprised Cech with a low drive that the goalkeeper spilled and had to smother at the second attempt.
Chelsea’s best attacking outlet proved to be Branislav Ivanovic, who got free in advanced positions on the right flank on a number of occasions. The Serbian sent in one devilish cross that was driven over by Frank Lampard and when he had a go himself, Schwarzer fisted the shot over the bar. Torres was then denied by a brilliant Aaron Hughes tackle and then lost his composure as he latched onto a brilliant Luiz pass and the ball bounced away off his left foot as he looked to pull the trigger. After the break, the Spaniard’s luck didn’t change. He should have done better than head a Ramires cross well over and curled wide into the Putney End from the edge of the box.
That was enough for Ancelotti to throw on Didier Drogba and the Ivorian striker’s hulking presence soon occupied Fulham’s centre halves. Michael Essien almost took advantage but he couldn’t quite connect with a teasing Lampard cross. Chelsea’s late charge never came and, instead, it is Fulham who have to reflect on a glorious opportunity to win another derby that the usually reliable Dempsey passed up.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Baird, Salcido, Hughes, Hangeland; Sidwell, Murphy (Gera 83), Dempsey, Duff; Dembele (Gudjohnsen 83), A. Johnson (Davies 74). Subs (not used): Stockdale, Kelly, Panstil, Greening.
BOOKED: Sidwell, Gera.
CHELSEA (4-4-2): Cech; Ivanovic, A. Cole, Terry, Luiz; Essien, Lampard, Ramires, Malouda; Torres (Drogba 71), Anelka (Kalou 65). Subs (not used): Turnbull, Ferreira, Mikel, McEachran, Sala.
REFEREE: Mike Dean (Wirral).