24 hours later and I’ve just about stopped replaying the penalty miss in my he- oh, wait, it’s back. There really is very little in football that is more gut wretching than missing an injury time penalty in a game where you’ve worked so hard and defended so valiantly against your bitter rivals (and current league champions) in order to get just a second win against them in 50 odd games. 117th minute winner to demote you to runners up in your first European Final perhaps? Not much else comes to mind, and for a long time after the game all I could think about what a missed opportunity it was.
However, reflecting on it it was a marvellous defensive performance, similar to the shifts we put in in our European run last season and I was genuinely very comfortable with how the game was played out because of it, I never felt once that Chelsea would break us down. Chelsea completely dominated that second half after what was a fairly even first 45 minutes, and yet not once was Schwarzer forced into a flying save, or Hughes had to head off the line. After 21 attempts on goal, Chelsea only had 3 on target. It played out exactly as I thought it would, Chelsea too narrow to damage us despite the added width offered by Kalou and Malouda in the second half with every white shirted player putting in a disciplined and determined shift, not allowing Chelsea to play their game despite the 60% possession they did have in that second half, and at the end of the day it was us who created the two best chances of the game, both Chelsea centre backs showing exactly why concentration is a skill and not something to take for granted. What a pity Dempsey, who is having a glorious season, couldn’t take either of them. His name is already in Fulham folklore with the goal that kept us up against Liverpool in ’07, the brace (including a late goal in that one) in the boxing day SW6 derby a couple of seasons ago and that unforgettable goal against Juventus, one of the truely historic moments of this football club, but just imagine if he had added a 93rd minute winner against Chelsea to that list! I must apologise, but I am finding it hard to get over what a missed chance it was. I am sure he’ll bounce back though so here’s to a Dempsey 30 yard screamer against City in a few days time.
Anyway as I say, it was a fantastic defensive performance at least, so here are my ratings for the Fulham lot:
Schwarzer – 6, was relatively untroubled which speaks volumes of both the lack of spark Chelsea offered and the effort 10 Fulham men infront of him to restrict that spark. His handling was good though and he caught all that he could. One noticable difference between Schwarzer and Stockdale is that Stockdale is, suprisingly, the keeper with better distribution, which was noticable on monday but it’s a relatively small issue.
Hughes – 8, he is a fantastic player isn’t he, and what a partnership he’s formed with Hangeland. Hughes put in a couple of key tackles to snuff out dangerous opportunities and cleared some dangerous balls into the box too. He was caught out a couple of times with balls into the channels and over the top to Torres who’s movement and burst of pace were pretty sharp I thought, although that means little if you’re first touch completely abandons you, as well as unecessarily putting Murphy under pressure with some silly passes but it was a good game from him, and was picked out by Hughes for special praise after the game, along with this guy…
Hangeland – 9, if he was a 24 million pound Brazilian called Luiz he would no doubt have gotten big plaudits after the game, but he’s not. Hangeland’s anticipation was terrific, he made several interceptions by stepping infront of Chelsea forwards and at other times stuck tight to them when dropping deep, and due to his reading of the game we were not in trouble because of it. Did well in the air against Torres who’s underrated in that regard and the massive Drogba. My man of the match.
Salcido – 7, he’s come in for some stick from the Fulham lot after loss of form and falling out of favour with Hughes, some of it deserved but also fairly harsh in my opinion. Defensively he did his bit yesterday, making some good tackles off Chelsea players, and I can only remember him getting beaten by a Chelsea player once. It was a pretty poor piece of defensive play to be fair, Ramires got past way too easily, but other than that he showed no particular defensive weakness and even showed a bit of added pace from earlier in the season. Unlike the centre halves however he was not under a larg amount of pressure, even when Kalou came on, which is why I’m rating him less than Hughes and Hangeland. Going forward he was a decent attacking outlet, although despite being a two footed player he likes to cut in a fair bit which is frustrating when he is really the only thing we have going down the left in terms of width. He is capable of whipping in a devilish cross with his left and we saw that a couple of times so it’d be nice if he stuck a bit wider when in possession deeper in the pitch to give us more options on the ball. There were a couple of really nice passes from Salcido though I thought, such as a little lobbed pass over two Chelsea heads to work the ball into a Fulham player in space. Hopefully this performance and the one that proceeded it up at Liverpool gives him the confidence to push on and restart his Fulham career.
Baird – 6, again like Salcido performed well and was only beaten once when Drogba this time danced around him on the byline and put in a dangerous ball which was cleared by Hughes. It is quite noticable that when at right back Baird very rarely crosses the ball from a position further than 25 or 30 yards from the byline, in comparison with Salcido at left back, or Konchesky before him, who enjoy getting to the byline which is probably a side effect to player outside of his natural position. There were also a few poor clearances from him which put us under unecessary pressure.
Sidwell – 8, ‘I have nothing to prove’, yeah right! What a great all round performance it was, moving the ball around well, pushing forward into pockets of space when we were attacking and getting tackles and interceptions in when defending. I have been really impressed with Sidwell since he came in for Etuhu and it’s difficult to think of any justification to drop him once Etuhu recovers from injury. Noticably got quieter after the yellow which was deserved for a rash challenge to be fair so his rating dropped a bit, but still worked hard. Very good signing, sign him up for the 3 years Sparky.
Murphy – 6, has been in very good form in the last few weeks but was kept quiet by the Chelsea midfield who put him under alot of pressure throughout the whole game . Murphy gave the ball away dangerously a few times (although as I said, he was put under pressure with poor decision making from Fulham players on a couple of occassions) but despite that played a couple of nice passes and made some interceptions. A decent game but not one that he’ll shine in, no suprise he was subbed before the end. Some uncharacteristically poor set pieces from him too, corners and free kicks hit straight down the throat of Cech at times when we could have put pressure on the Chelsea goal.
Duff – 5, I have to be honest I thought he was poor, especially in that second half when we needed a bit of extra nous to keep the ball better and to relieve us of pressure. Duff got past Cole a couple of times in the first half but second half he was anonymous. Liked all Fulham players worked hard and put in a defensive shift, maybe he tired more than most, but didn’t really stand out at all and I was suprised to see him stay on the whole game.
Dempsey – 6, oh Clint. I’ll talk about his game other than the penalty first. He started out on the left wing but switched upfront for the last 15 minutes when Davies came on. I thought he had a pretty decent game actually. Tried very hard, won a few headers and kept possession pretty well with some neat balls. I can see him and Salcido forming an effective partnership down that left hand side. Fell away in the second half similar to Duff but not to the same extent I felt, and when he moved up top he helped relieve pressure on our defence by holding onto the ball sensibly.
Now for the pen… and this isn’t hindsight, but I felt as Dempsey stepped up to take it that he’d miss. To be honest, I’d never feel confident in Dempsey scoring a penalty compared to Murphy or even Gera, whether it’s 93rd minute or not. He doesn’t seem to have the right temperament or technique for it. When you look at someone like Danny Murphy take a penalty you know he will aim for one of the corners or wait for the goalkeeper to dive whereas Dempsey seems to hit it and hope because you cannot expect to score a penalty when you hit it a foot in the air centre left of goal (against Stoke it was in exactly the same position, and if I recall correctly so was the one he scored at Wigan a couple of seasons ago). His body language as he steps up is one of someone who’s ‘in the zone’, if you’ll forgive the cliche, and while Dempsey’s pumped up, arrogant style provides flashes of brilliance at times it just isn’t what’s required in a high pressure situation when composure and poise is needed, and when you combine this with a keeper in Petr Cech who has a decent repuation for saving penalties anyway, you have a feeling of dread. There was critcism of him taking the follow up too when Gudjohnsen would of had an easy tap in but I won’t blame him for that, it was instinct and an attempt to rectify the situation. I hope that this won’t affect him, and I don’t think it will. He is my player of the season so far and long may it continue.
Dembele – 5, I thought he played pretty well in the first half and I love watching him when he has the ball at his feet, the east at which he glides past players is great to see, but in the second half he dropped noticably on the deeper Chelsea midfielder which limited his attacking play alot and his failure to hold onto the ball well was a reason why we were under so much pressure and in the end was brought off by the manager. One worry that I had when he came here was that he’d be one of those midfielders who does a fair bit of work but not too much and I’m glad to see that being proved wrong as he put in another hard working shift. He needs more space and support to operate so no doubt expect him to shine on sunday in the cup.
Johnson – 5, a similar story to Dembele and Duff. Looked a threat in the first half although 3 or 4 times Luiz completely outwitted him when it came to reading the pass. Second half he tried hard but barely got a sniff with the long balls up to him, and until Zamora comes back we only really have Dempsey who can win those up top so again, no suprise to see that tactical switch.
Davies – 6, I have to say I must credit Hughes for his substitutions. Just as Chelsea had us pinned back the three subs gave us fresh legs out of possession and a threat on the counter. I’ve said before I like Davies and he showed a nice bit of pace and intelligence to expose some space that Chelsea left behind as they pushed for the winner. I’m not too sure about Davies as a centre mid though, he doesn’t seem too assured there and gets caught out of position.
Gera – 5, didn’t do much when he came on and his lack of pace was completely exposed when he had a chance to attack a Chelsea defender but simply didn’t have the legs to do it. This is where I felt a Shaun Wright Phillips or Kakuta would have helped. An unecessary yellow card too.
Gudjohnsen – 6, the last of our January signings and showed a touch of class when he came on. Gudjohnsen’s first involvement after coming on was a crunching tackle on a Chelsea player, not a bad way to introduce yourself at Craven Cottage! His stand out play though came when in about two yards of space controlled the ball and passed it 5 yards between two Chelsea players closing him down into space for the Fulham attacker, Davies I think it was, to run onto the ball and counter. Breathtaking bit of skill. Also showed a couple of other deft touches. I really think he’ll do well for us this season and hopefully further on, a Nevland mk. 2 to come off the bench and help open up the game a bit more.