Chelsea had to settle for a share of the spoils against a dogged Fulham side as it finished 2-2 at Craven Cottage.
Chelsea travelled to Fulham this afternoon knowing that three points were a necessity to keep the pressure on Liverpool at the top of the table.
The Blues away form has been exemplary, winning eight and drawing one of their nine fixtures outside Stamford Bridge, but today manager Luis Felipe Scolari was forced to go with the unorthodox centre-half pairing of Alex and Ivanovic due to John Terry being suspended.
Fulham meanwhile are formidable at home, only losing once at Craven Cottage all season, and Roy Hodgson’s side were on an eight-match unbeaten run heading into the fixture. The former Inter Milan manager once more went with the striker pairing of Andrew Johnson and Bobby Zamora in attack.
The home side started the more positively, buoyed by their superb recent defensive record that has seen them concede just one goal in their last seven matches, and on ten minutes they managed to grab a surprise lead.
Simon Davies swung in a superb teasing cross that eluded everyone, except American Clint Dempsey who controlled the ball on his chest before prodding past Cech. What would Chelsea’s response be against such a notoriously stingy defence?
Didier Drogba almost provided them with an immediate response. The burly front-man expertly swivelled Aaron Hughes inside the area, and as Schwarzer rushed towards him he slid the ball under his body – but agonizingly wide of the far post. It was a chance the normally reliable Ivorian would gratefully accept, but his radar was slightly off on this occasion.
Scolari was forced to shuffle his pack on the half hour as Malouda had to limp off with a hamstring injury. Nicholas Anelka took his place and almost made an immediate impact. The Frenchman struck powerfully from all of twenty-five yards but Schwarzer did well to push the ball away to safety. However Chelsea at this stage were finding their rhythm, with Lampard and Drogba once more both going close before the interval. Fulham held on to lead at the break – but only just.
But as the second period commenced their resistance only lasted four minutes, and it was a poor goal to lose from Fulham’s point of view. Aaron Hughes and Schwarzer got into a terrible mix-up after a teasing through pass from Deco bounced awkwardly in the area. Neither took responsibility, and the ball broke to Frank Lampard who accepted the gift to tap home and give Chelsea a deserved equaliser.
Moments later they could have went ahead. The powerful Drogba controlled a through ball on his chest but fired inches over the crossbar for the edge of the area with Hangeland in close attention. You felt that Chelsea had the match by the scruff on the neck, and they should go on and win from this position.
Once more they threatened the Fulham goal on sixty-five minutes. Joe Cole broke free down the right and struck the ball across Schwarzer, but the big Aussie got down well not only to save the initial effort but then to push the ball clear of the incoming Anelka.
On 70 minutes, Fulham could hold out no longer and once more it was Frank Lampard to the rescue for Chelsea. Andrew Johnson gave away a free-kick on the edge of the box, and the England midfielder struck a swerving, dipping effort that went through the defensive wall and completely deceived Scwarzer before nestling into the corner of the net. Again, it was a poor goal for the home side to lose, but it was no more than Chelsea deserved.
Fulham were forced to come and take the game to Chelsea once more, and just when it seemed that Scolari's side were going to secure the points, Clint Dempsey grabbed a sensational equaliser.
In the final minute, the midfielder leaped majestically to meet a Simon Davies corner and the ball flew into the top corner. Incredibly, it was 2-2!
But yet neither side were finished yet in this pulsating derby. Frank Lampard almost won it in injury time but John Pantsil blocked his shot from close range, and in the end Chelsea had to settle for a point.
This was a hugely exciting clash, and all credit to Fulham for their role in a superb advert for the English Premier League.
Dempsey (10' & 89')
Lampard (48' & 67')
Fulham: Schwarzer; Pantsil, Hangeland, Hughes, Konchesky; Etuhu (Andreasen 77'), Murphy, Davies, Dempsey; Johnson, Zamora (Nevland 77')
Chelsea: Cech; Bosingwa, Ivanovic, Alex (Carlvalho 37'), Cole; Deco, Lampard, Malouda (Anelka 29'), J Cole (Kalou 70'), Mikel; Drogba
--Paul Macdonald, Goal.com