To still be unbeaten after four months of the season takes courage, toughness and no little agility. That both Chelsea and Fulham started and finished Saturday without a league defeat to their names in 2019-20 is testament to the character in the respective squads, and the 2-2 final score at Cobham in this latest reprisal of their West London derby was about right on balance.
Certainly, both teams will feel they offered enough to make off with all the spoils; Chelsea had more of the general play, Fulham perhaps the better chances, and it was the visitors who twice held a lead only for the Blues to fight their way back and ensure a 13th match without defeat this term.
It wasn’t easy either. Fulham scored with less than three minutes played, as Sylvester Jasper cut the defence open with a through ball to Ollie O’Neill, who settled himself before clipping past Jake Askew and into the bottom corner.
Cue Chelsea’s fightback. Or, rather, a stuttering effort to mount one, for as much as they controlled possession and had a territorial advantage, they didn’t pose very much of a threat. Joe Haigh’s deflected shot midway through the half forced Damian Las into his first save, albeit one that barely qualified as a save, while Dion Rankine’s touch let him down when given the chance to run at goal, and Broja’s radar was off at the end of a typically muscular burst forwards.
Trailing at the break for just the second time this season, and for the first time since August, they wasted little time in correcting things after the restart. A slew of corners had come and gone without success before one finally paid dividends, as Charlie Wiggett got the final touch in a goalmouth scramble. They all count.
Yet, instead of taking the momentum and building upon it, Chelsea let Fulham come back at them. Dynel Simeu threw himself at Fabio Carvalho’s shot to keep out a near-certain goal, while Askew got an important hand to Jay Stansfield’s strike to keep the league’s leading scorer from adding to his 18 goals so far. The pressure eventually told with just under twenty minutes left, when Carvalho turned provider for substitute Jean-Pierre Tiehi to guide a smart header into the far corner for 2-1.
Could Chelsea come back again? They answered the call just four minutes later, as Broja collected Myles Peart-Harris’ flick-on, found space for a shot, and managed to sneak the ball all the way through for his 13th of the season in all competitions. Everything was set up for a grandstand finish that never quite materialised; the Blues huffed and puffed without reward, while Askew saved his best for last to keep out Carvalho in Fulham’s final hurrah.
Fulham stay top by a point, while Chelsea have a game in hand, and Brighton lie on wait just behind for the first sign of weakness. The Under-18 Premier League South title race is heating up as we approach the winter break.
Chelsea: Askew, Simeu (c), McClelland, Wiggett, Iling-Junior (Brooking 89), Bate, Rankine, Simons, Broja, Lewis (Nunn 81), Haigh (Peart-Harris 63)
Subs not Used: Wady, Humphreys
Goals: Wiggett 48, Broja 76
Fulham: Las, McAvoy, Odutayo, Page (Ablade 85), Bowat, Murphy, O’Neill, Pajaziti (Tiehi 53), Stansfield, Carvalho (c), Jasper
Subs not Used: Chisholm, Biereth, Williams
Goals: O’Neill 3, Tiehi 72