Chelsea returned to winning ways after the disappointment of the weekend as they overcame Fulham to win their eleventh consecutive home game in the League, with Michael Essien scoring the only goal of the game before being sent-off late on.
The Blues welcomed their local rivals, Fulham, for another West London derby on a cold night at the Bridge as we looked to avoid suffering consecutive defeats in the league for the first time in four-and-a-half years.
There was return in the Chelsea starting line-up for Michael Essien after missing out against Liverpool due to a toe injury, while Didier Drogba also returned to the first eleven despite being diagnosed with Malaria earlier in the week. There was also a first start in the league for Jose Bosingwa after his long lay-off.
Fulham also had a large contingent of former Blues with Damien Duff, Mark Hughes, Kevin Hitchcock, Eddie Niedzwiecki and Ray Lewington all returning to their former stomping ground. They hadn’t won at Stamford Bridge since 1979, when they beat us in the Old Second Division, and weren’t favourites to do so today as well.
The match started with Chelsea trying to get an early initiative and so dominated the possession resulting in a series of corners early on in the game. Despite dominating the possession, Carlo Ancelotti’s men failed to create any clear cut chances as Fulham defence stood strong amid pressure.
Didier Drogba was the first player to test Schwarzer in the Fulham goal with a dipping free-kick. Chelsea soon broke the deadlock though when a beautiful Kalou cross was headed in by Essien on 30 minutes, his third League goal of the season and remarkably all headers.
Referee Martin Atkinson wasn’t having a good game and this was clearly evident when he didn’t book Simon Davies for a late cynical foul on Zhirkov. His performance would remain inconsistent throughout the game, much to the displeasure of all Blues supporters.
After conceding the goal, Fulham tried to make a game of it, but it was all in vain as Roman Abramovich watched from the stands. As the half-time approached, Kalou got two great chances in succession to put the game beyond ‘The Cottagers’, but was wasteful in front of the goal and the score remained at 1-0 as we went into the half-time.
As we begin the second-half, Martin Atkinson’s ineptitude was again on display in a space of minutes. Firstly, he lets go Dempsey, after the American went late into a challenge on Mikel, when replays showed that he had no eyes on the ball. Then, secondly, he harshly books Essien for a foul on Dempsey.
Kalou was again in the mix of things when he dribbled past two Fulham defenders into the box, but his shot was half-blocked by Schwarzer’s leg before being cleared by off the line by Aaron Hughes.
Miscommunication in the visiting team’s defence let in Malouda, but Schwarzer and Hughes were again at hand to clear away the danger. The Irishmen blocking Drogba’s resulting shot from Schwarzer’s clearance.
Chelsea knew they needed another goal and were unlucky not to get one after a goal mouth scramble saw Malouda, Mikel and Essien go close. As the fans grew restless in the stands, Dempsey showed how slender our lead was when he tested Petr Cech from distance in 72nd minute. Malouda was then replaced by Ramires, as Chelsea looked to see off any late challenge from Mark Hughe’s men, with Zhirkov now taking an advanced position.
Fulham brought on Gera to replace the young Briggs as they tried to get something out of the game and it almost came off for them as well, when a weak clearance by Terry gave Gera a chance to get his shot in, but his sweetly struck volley was well saved by Cech, as Chelsea held on.
Dempsey was in the thick of things again as he caught Bosingwa with his left elbow in the face, but sadly this was again missed by Martin Atkinson, whereas on any other day he would have been sent off for his series of challenges, he didn’t even go into the book today. The Portuguese was soon replaced by his fellow countrymen Paulo Ferreira.
The game was to end on a sour note for us though, as Michael Essien was sent off for an alleged stamp on Dempsey, yes that man again, in the last minute of the game. He now faces a three game ban for a straight red card, but hopefully the imminent return of Frank Lampard should soften the blow.
Tonight’s result gained even more significance as both the Manchester sides played out a dour 0-0 draw. Chelsea are now 4 points clear at the top ahead of the match against Sunderland.
Carlo Ancelotti was satisfied with his team’s performance but rued Essien’s red card, he said; “We started well from the beginning with a high tempo during the game, which we didn’t do in the last game at Liverpool,”
“I said yesterday that Man City against Man United will be a draw and it was a draw so I am a good magician!” he said. “We lost at Man City so Man United had a better result than us and they remain a very strong team, but it is good to have four points clear.”
“But Essien out for three games will be a problem.”
Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Bosingwa (Ferreira 88), Ivanovic, Terry (c) Cole; Essien, Mikel, Zhirkov; Kalou (Sturridge 85), Drogba, Malouda (Ramires 77).
Goal: Essien 30