Fulham Take a Point off the Neighbors
Of all the sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these: We didn’t beat Chelsea AGAIN.
There will be many oaths uttered regarding Mark Clattenburg tonight, but you won’t read any of them here. The second I saw Danny go in with both feet, I said “Penalty.” It wasn’t that long ago that we had a right back who made a similar challenge and missed completely, but still got a straight red. My only hope was that our captain would only get a yellow, and as it turned out he didn’t even get that. Yes, Clattenburg made some strange decisions – not the least of which was carding Mireles when Riise fell down two feet from him – but they benefitted us as much as Chelsea.
In the end, Fulham were undone by the lack of a lead striker. As many, including me, have noted, Dempsey plays his best from a deep position. When he’s up front on his own in a 4-5-1 … not so much. As the ever-irritating Steve McManaman pointed out, he holds the ball well, but nobody takes the position that he takes. And so we drew 1-1 in a driving rainstorm in an absorbing match with lots of talking points.
For instance, Kerim Frei started on the left wing against a very good right back. As many, including me, have noted, Frei’s total dependence on his right foot makes him easy to defend. Today … not so much. For most of the first half, our teenaged Swiss winger tortured Ivanovic mercilessly. He turned him inside out and linked brilliantly with a roll-back-the-years John Arne Riise. Fulham had pretty much seized control of the match when – in the last seconds of the half – Danny conceded the penalty that was cooly converted by the loathsome Frank Lampard. If any Chelsea supporters are reading this, I say “loathsome” because – once again – he celebrated the goal by taunting the Fulham fans. I have never seen him score against us when this piss poor behavior wasn’t repeated. He continues to be one of two reasons I’ll never support Chelsea in any endeavor.
Speaking of John Terry, he did a pretty good job of supporting Cahill today. Cahill is definitely the senior partner now in terms of talent – the last of a long line of central defenders who risk life, limb, and hernia carrying the England captain on his back.
Back to the first half. Riise looked our most dangerous player as he turned on the jets many times exposing Chelsea’s right side. This continued in the second half, when Fulham came out with a will and took the game to The Undead. With the exception of some very effective counter attacks, Fulham took control early in the half and never relinquished it. The unlikely centre mid trio of Murphy, Diarra, and Dembélé, neatly combined silk and steel – spraying the ball around the pitch one moment, tackling back to dispossess the next. Over on the right wing Duff continued to look dangerous, although it must be said that he was handled very competently by Chelsea’s stop-gap left back, Bertrand – a potential England defender unless I miss my guess. With the 4-5-1 morphing very nicely into 4-3-3 with conventional wingers, Fulham looked as potentially lethal as I’ve seen them.
Still there were few concrete chances for us in the match. Why? Because the one thing we needed more than ever tonight – a traditional centre forward – was not available to us. Pavel the Pog was up in the Cottage watching through the rain and the supporters’ tears. Also missing, of course, was Dempsey’s partner in telepathy, Bryan Ruiz. I think that had he and Dempsey been the 1’s in a 4-4-1-1, we might have overwhelmed them.
Like many, I dreaded giving up a second to Chelsea on the break – especially since Norwich’s victory over Tottenham [and well done the yellow and green] moved them a point above us. Instead, against all odds, Fulham converted one of three clear late chances to snatch a point. Twice, Aaron Hughes hammered headers straight at Eraserhead, and twice the Czech keeper repelled them. But there was to be no “poster moment” for Cech shortly thereafter as Dempsey nodded in from the near post. 1-1 it stood, and that was justice.
Strangely and joyfully, Martin Jol didn’t feel like settling for the draw. On came Special K and Orlando Sa to join Dickson Etuhu as substitutes, as Fulham well and truly attacked until the final whistle. As it was neither offense was a match for either defense, and I’m hoping that the 27 players who took part left the field with a positive feeling about the match. We’ll beat Chelsea soon and regularly, but not this season. We’ll just have to console ourselves with three drawn matches [after 90+ minutes], two of which occurred at Stamford Bridge.
It’s hard to find anyone to criticize, and I’m not going to, but if any are slighted by the absence of a glowing mention, it’s because there were some stunning performances out there. Steven Kelly had another brilliant match. He was all over the pitch and blocked some potentially dangerous crosses on more than one occasion. Hughes and Hangeland looked every inch the Thames Barrier, and Diarra is here, folks.
HatterDon’s Man of the Match – just edging out his left side partner Kerim Frei, was the brilliant John Arne Riise. He had pace and style and crossing ability. He nudges Frei aside from the “honor” here by virtue of yet another outstanding defensive performance as well. Who’s third? Martin Jol.
What’s next? Well, we have a weekend off thanks to match commitments of our scheduled opponent. So there’ll be plenty of time for tired muscles and niggling injuries to heal. I like the Fulham I’m looking at right now, and I think we’ll all enjoy the rest of the season.
Finally, a huge HatterDon salute to our support which was louder than I’ve ever heard it.