Fulham’s second string put in a promising performance at Stamford Bridge this evening but were left ruing their missed chances as they crashed out of the Carling Cup on penalties. Pajtim Kasami missed a spot-kick in normal time and Moussa Dembele and Bryan Ruiz failed in the shoot-out as ten-man Chelsea progressed 4-3 on penalties.
Martin Jol opted to radically reshape his team ahead of the trip to West Brom in the league on Saturday. Matthew Briggs and Stephen Kelly started at full-back, with Zdenek Gygera moving to centre back to partner Philippe Senderos. The new-look defence did well, nullifying the threat posed by debutant Romelu Lukaku and Daniel Sturridge. Marcel Gecov impressed on his first start in central midfield, but the real star of the show was 17 year-old Kerim Frei, whose willing running and creativity caused real problems for Chelsea’s defence, and won the penalty early in the second half.
In a game that became more open as it progressed, Chelsea had the better chances in the first period. Andres Vilas-Boas opted for a blend of youth and experience. Young midfielder Josh McEachran caught the eye with a mature performance alongside the former Barcelona youngster Oriel Romeu and it was the teenager who created the first clear-cut chance. The 18 year-old’s persistence saw the ball break kindly for him 25 yards from goal and he beat two Fulham defenders as he sped into the penalty area. His low shot beat Mark Schwarzer and looked to be heading for the far corner, only for Sturridge to slide it over the line. It was a costly touch as Sturridge, so impressive at Bolton on loan last season, was offside and also injured his knee in the process.
Chelsea had a couple of other presentable opportunities too. A wonderfully-timed challenge from Kelly stopped Florent Malouda from opening the scoring and Salomon Kalou flicked a header wide from the French winger’s dangerous cross moments later. The Ivorian also shot wastefully wide after Schwarzer had pushed out Lukaku’s shot from the angle of the penalty area. Fulham operated mostly on the break in the first period, but did offer a goal threat. Ruiz threaded an inviting ball through for Orlando Sa, but before the Portuguese striker could shoot, Alex arrived to make a goal-saving tackle. Sa also slipped as he attempted to cross for Ruiz during a bright debut and, in a frantic finale to the first period, collided with Petr Cech, who was replaced by Ross Turnbull at half-time, when challenging for a cross.
Fulham almost enjoyed the perfect start to the second half as a lovely back-heel from Ruiz released Frei who cut inside Alex and was brought down by the centre half. Referee Chris Foy took a moment after awarding the penalty before showing the Brazilian a red card – having considered him the last man – but Kasami struck the bar with the spot-kick. Foy turned down loud Fulham shouts for a second penalty when Romeu appeared to push Sa to the floor and Vilas-Boas quickly reorganised replacing the unfortunate McEarchan with John Terry.
The visitors continued to push for a goal with Turnbull called into action to make sharp saves from Moussa Dembele, found by a deflected Chris Baird free-kick, and then Kasami. The closest Fulham came to a goal was when Terry’s back header looked to be looping into the Chelsea net only for Turnbull to tip it over. The former Middlesbrough keeper was less than convincing when he flapped at a Kasami corner and Baird shot disappointing wide from eight yards. Frei also found himself through on the goalkeeper, but had to take the chance with his weaker left foot and the finish lacked both power and direction.
Chelsea also had opportunities as the game drifted towards extra-time. A combination of Gygera, Frei and Kasami scrambled Lukaku’s header off the line at a late corner and Ryan Bertrand shot wastefully at Schwarzer having worked a terrific one-two with Malouda. Extra-time brought few clear cut chances, with Lukaku wasting one of the best when he capitalised on a defensive mistake to be one-on-one with Schwarzer, only for the Australian to kick the ball to safety. Aside from a speculative Bobby Zamora shot, Fulham’s best chance fell to Steve Sidwell, who was a matter of inches away from stealing victory against his former club with a venomous volley.
The shoot-out started well when Schwarzer saved from Lampard, but Dembele placed his penalty too close to Turnbull and Ruiz’s final kick hit the crossbar twice, bouncing on – but apparently not over – the goal-line in between to condemn Fulham to an agonising defeat.
CHELSEA (4-3-3): Cech (Turnbull 45); Ferreira, Bertrand, Luiz, Alex; Romeu, McEarchan (Terry 52), Malouda; Sturridge (Lampard 44), Lukaku, Kalou. Subs (not used): Bosingwa, Mikel, Mata, Drogba.
SENT OFF: Alex (47).
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Schwarzer; Kelly, Briggs, Senderos, Grygera; Baird, Gecov (Sidwell 90); Frei, Ruiz, Kasami (Zamora 79); Sa (Dembele 59). Subs (not used): Etheridge, Halliche, J. A. Riise, Kacaniklic.
REFEREE: Chris Foy (Merseyside).