The Guardian, Dominic Fifield: “Chelsea have reclaimed some momentum at the Premier League’s pinnacle, though rarely can a return to the old routine have felt so horribly disjointed. The champions spluttered their way to another home success here at their local rivals’ expense, extending their lead at the top in the process, but with the gloss completely stripped by Michael Essien’s crude two-footed lunge in stoppage time, which will earn such a key performer a ban.”
Daily Telegraph, Jason Burt: “Chelsea missed Essien at Liverpool last weekend, due to a toe injury, and they will miss him now for the next three Premier League matches. There was insult, too, for Chelsea, who felt aggrieved when Dempsey was not punished for an apparent elbow on Jose Bosingwa, with the groggy full-back having to be substituted.”
The Independent, Ian Fleming: “Ancelotti exonerated his player for the challenge, but said he wanted to study TV replays before deciding whether the club would appeal. “Maybe it was not a red card because Essien did a strong tackle but on the ball. There was not a risk on the opponent,” he said. “I don’t think he made a silly foul. He tried to do a tackle, he won the tackle. And I’m not sure it was a sending off. It would be a problem if we lose him for three games.””
Official Chelsea FC Website: “On balance over the whole 90 minutes it was a game Chelsea clearly deserved to win but having created little for the first half-hour, after the goal a flood of chances were spurned before Fulham rallied and tested Petr Cech. There were nervous moments before the three points were secured.”
The Bridge, The Bridge of Sighs, Wayne Bridge, The Bridges of Madison County, moving from the Bridge, The Bridge over the River Kwai. All the sort of random thoughts that might run through your mind any day of the week. But there was only one bridge in my mind as I contemplated the West London Derby (the one without QPR) and that was the poxy bridge over the M6 the powers that be decided to move on the 14th of April 2002. It was the reason I was sitting on the motorway at one o’clock in the morning in an endless queue of traffic.
Of course I wouldn’t have been there had Fulham not demanded the FA Cup semi-final be moved from Highbury to Villa because of the enormous number of fans they were going to bring to the party. In the end they wouldn’t have filled the Trotters’ 3-wheeler.
So despite the loveable “Tudor Cottagey, Brylcreamy, Johnny Hainesy, Down by the River and Wave at the Passing Boat Raciness” of our near neighbours, I feel just a little frosty towards them.
The fact that they have been difficult to beat in recent years is their right and entitlement. That’s football. Making me go to Birmingham to end up in a pub with no beer and then spend half the night on a motorway isn’t.
To the game!
Essien was in to replace Ramires, Anelka was resting, Alex injured, the Boz was back and Ivan the Engine was paired with JT in the centre. A front line of Drogs flanked by Kalou and Malouda had the job of getting some goals.
A most disturbing display of man love by the chaps pre-kick off. A firm handshake and a steely look in the eye is surely enough. The hugging got so intense I had to avert my gaze at one point.
A steady start with Fulham not seeing the ball for over three minutes augured well. We were neat and tidy, moving the ball and carrying some threat, though the final ball and the shooting was somewhat wayward.
Five and half minutes in Essien performed his by now customary nutmeg, but then lost the ball, probably because of the foul that wasn’t given. That set the tone really. Essien was rusty, his shooting poor, but he did make a contribution with his drive, purpose and physical presence, scored a well-taken goal and then got sent off in injury time. I haven’t seen a replay. It looked harsh as there was no contact that I could see, but that little jumping motion will always get you in trouble.
Fulham appeared to have little ambition and were content to sit deep denying the space in the final third. Both Cole and Bosingwa were raiding the flanks, Malouda making a three with Zhirkov and Cole on the left and then popping up on the right and floating in the space behind Drogba to some effect.
All in all we were lively through the first half, but lacked a little bit of quality around the 18 yard box. Coming up to the half hour Drogba rolled the defender on the corner of the six yard box only to be called for a foul. Then Kalou went on a clever run and was brought down, following the free kick, Essien was then fouled. Pressure was building. As play developed from the free kick, Drogba went down in the box, Fulham may have got distracted, Chelsea played on and Essien rose unchallenged to meet a smart cross from Kalou.
Fulham briefly got some pressure into their game and gained a series of corners, but Chelsea coped and looked dangerous on the break. Around the 40 minute mark we were again looking threatening and Kalou should have done better with a good cross from Malouda. Minutes later Zhirkov released him with a well judged ball, he went on one of his mazy runs and was clear in the box but shot just wide.
By half time a 2-0 lead would have been deserved, despite the team not firing on all cylinders. Indeed there were a couple of penalty shouts late on, but Martin Atkinson wasn’t interested.
The second half opened with Fulham pressing a little higher and Chelsea got a little sloppier under the pressure, but 10 minutes in another fine run from Kalou saw him almost thread the ball through Schwarz’s legs, but it slowed down enough to allow a goal line clearance.
By the hour mark, with Andy Johnson warming up, the sense that a second goal was needed seemed to be creeping up on the crowd. The team must have felt that too, because as Fulham started to push up realising that they could get something from the game, we suddenly had a good five minute spell after 65 minutes. Malouda beat Schwarzer to a through ball, laid it off to Drogba who should have done better from 15 yards than slam his shot into a defender. Drogba was again loose in the area a minute later, but couldn’t finish and gained a corner. From the corner Chelsea had three good chances but there was always a body or the keeper to get in the way.
On 70 minutes Fulham had their first really threatening moment but Cech saved well. Then the game went through a rather loose phase, which apart from a similar period toward the end of the first half was in contrast to the controlled manner in which Chelsea had managed the action. We were still dangerous, with Kalou and Zhirkov in particular creating a threat but either Fulham fouls or poor finishing meant good opportunities fizzled out.
Another good save from a fierce Geira shot in the 81st minute ensured jangly nerve time all round. Ramires was by now on for Malouda and he brought some zip to a midfield that seemed to be running out of steam. Sturridge replaced Kalou on 85’ but didn’t really get a chance to run at Fulham.
Bosingwa had to go off after a nasty blow to the head from Dempsey who had a look behind him before throwing an arm. Ferreira came on to replace him. Both Mikel (head) and Essien (back) had also suffered from somewhat undisciplined aerial challenges that went unpunished earlier in the game.
In injury time Drogba had three men with him on a break yet ran up a blind alley and passed to none of them. A frustrating end to a night of real endeavour that should have yielded more.
It only remained for Essien to head off early to light the boiler and get the showers running.
Thoughts I have thunk
The game seemed to zip by and was entertaining, I thought. Not a perfect performance by any means but you’ve got to eke out these wins sometimes. Fulham lacked ambition and seemed surprised to be still in it after 70 minutes when they seemed to decide to have a go.
- Essien was rusty and needs game time, which is unfortunate as he will be out for the next three. In defence, Terry and Ivanovic both played well, though I suppose they weren’t kept that busy, with the latter getting some vital headers late in the game.
- Cole and Bosingwa were full of endeavour. Cole didn’t hit the heights but the Boz got much needed match practice.
- I thought Zhirkov had a steady game with a couple of really eye catching passes and Mikel was as strong and steady as ever.
- Drogba was great in defence, not so great up front. He seems to be trying too hard. He should relax. But then I haven’t tried playing top flight football with a dose of malaria.
- Kalou played well. Yes I know we get frustrated at his finishing, but he gave Fulham defenders a real dose of the jitters. Deserved a goal.
- Malouda was very good in the first half, but faded, I thought towards the end. A little bit of zip was missing.
- Cech. Secure as ever. I don’t want to tempt fate but our defence of set pieces is better and some of that must come from how the players in front of him feel about Cech’s form. (I hope this doesn’t come back and bite me on the ass.)
- All in all we looked capable and confident. After Sunday we needed to respond and despite the unevenness of the performance there was a lot to enjoy.
Inconsistent was Mr A. Insisted that Chelsea twice re-take a free kick down in their right hand corner until it was from the right spot. Didn’t bother late in the game when Fulham did the same thing in the same place.
Booked Chelsea players yet let Fulham away with a series of fouls and challenges that by the same criteria merited yellow cards.
Gave fouls when Chelsea used their physique fairly to good effect, yet on one occasion in particular let a Fulham player wrestle with Malouda, pull his shirt and generally prevent an attack developing, only blowing up when the Frenchman went to the ground in frustration.
A baffling display.
A word of caution
While Frank’s long awaited return is something we welcome, it is surely going to take him a few games to get going.