After going seven league matches unbeaten before the winter academy break, Chelsea have now lost consecutive London derbies in 2012 after a narrow 2-1 defeat away to Fulham on Tuesday afternoon.
It was an all-Swedish affair in front of goal as a Muamer Tankovic brace led the whites to victory, and despite a late effort from Anjur Osmanovic, Chelsea were unable to take what would have been a deserved share of the spoils back to Cobham.
What with the fixture being a derby affair and there being no competitive reserve match this week, Adie Viveash was able to name a strong starting eleven including Jamal Blackman, Todd Kane, Nathaniel Chalobah and Lucas Piazon. On a pitch littered with international talent, Fulham featured Finnish goalie Jesse Joronen, German midfielder Ronny Minkwitz, and Israeli Omri Altman alongside the Swedish Tankovic and former Chelsea midfielder Mesca, of Portugal via Guinea-Bissau.
The first half was a largely tepid affair with neither side able to get into their groove, perhaps due in part to the unfavourably cold conditions. Fulham held the better of the early possession and territorial advantage, but rarely found a way to worry Blackman.
Conversely, whilst Chelsea struggled to retain the ball, they were able to test Joronen, with Chalobah twice drawing routine stops from outside of the box. The front three of Piazon, Feruz and Kane looked lively and keen to threaten what looked a physically undersized back four.
Small they may have been, but they didn’t want for talent. Josh Passley’s excellent intervention denied Feruz a run on goal after Kane had picked out the diminutive leading scorer.
There were opportunities for Fulham as the half wore on, with midfielder Altman first seeing a long range effort skid wide via a deflection, and then a header sail over despite being in a good position to make better of it.
Captain Minkwitz sliced wide after good play by Banya, but late in the first half it was Chelsea who had the best chances of the match, but neither Feruz nor Kane could find a way through despite having fantastic openings handed to them on a plate.
Viveash made a change at half time, replacing the tidy and effective Lewis Baker with John Swift, who added drive and directness into the heart of the midfield. Indeed, it was a bright start to the second half by the boys in blue with Piazon quickly involved, but within ten minutes they found themselves a goal behind.
Fulham broke away from one of a number of Chelsea attacks, and had numbers over as they took quick advantage of the space they had to play in. An apparent loose pass across the face of goal from the right wasn’t dealt with, allowing Tankovic to slot past Blackman on the far side to make it 1-0.
Briefly, it gave the hosts the impetus to take charge of the match and they had chances to double their lead through Minkwitz and Passley, but Chelsea responded well. Fresh legs were introduced at the back in the form of Alex Davey and Nortei Nortey (making his first appearance of the season after suffering a knee injury in August) and they began to work their way back into things.
The creative flair of Osmanovic and Piazon ensured the ball moved around the middle of the pitch well and with Swift and Chalobah carrying the charge from deeper, whilst Kane worked hard out wide, the threat to Fulham’s goal was great.
Unfortunately, the Blues’ finishing was below par and on the rare occasion they struck with conviction, they found Joronen in good form.
Piazon and Chalobah both side-footed tame efforts straight at the goalkeeper before Feruz drew a full-length diving save. Kane followed that up with two fiercely-hit efforts which missed the target, but there was only one team which looked like scoring as the match ticked into its final quarter.
Which made it all the more surprising when Fulham doubled their lead just under twenty minutes from time. Emerging from their own half for the first time in some ten minutes, they build the play down the right with Mesca and Oltman.
The latter was afforded time to set up his cross, a high, hanging one to the far post, where Tankovic had cleverly dropped off his man to find a yard of space and head past Blackman.
It took the wind out of Chelsea’s sails and momentarily their best efforts were reduced to ambitious shots from well outside the box.
Yet with ten minutes left, they forced their way back into it. Nathan Aké picked out Kane on the right, and he bustled his way to the bye line before cutting the ball back to Osmanovic, who made no mistake in making it 2-1.
Upping the pressure for one last hurrah, moments came and went for the visitors. Kane drew a save and Piazon saw an effort blocked but Fulham came closer than anyone to scoring the game’s fourth as Tankovic was denied a hat-trick in stoppage time by Blackman’s left goalpost.
Fulham emerged victorious and deserved something from the match but for Chelsea, it was a similar outcome to their last league outing against West Ham earlier in the month. They enjoyed healthy periods of domination but had little to show for it due to wasteful finishing, and the odd mistake in defence cost them three points.
The Under-18s are not in action this weekend, with the scheduled home game against Charlton postponed. They next play away to Norwich on the 28th of the month.
Team: Blackman, Gordon (Nortey 60), Nkumu (Davey 60), Aké, Nditi, Chalobah (c), Baker (Swift 45), Osmanovic, Kane, Piazon, Feruz
Sub not Used: Beeney