Essien the Blues hero and villain
Published 11/11/2010 | 05:00
Didier Drogba has malaria, but there was nothing feverish about this derby, at least until a two-footed tackle by goal-scorer Michael Essien in injury-time, aimed at Clint Dempsey, provoked a red card.
Chelsea were below-par once more, but struggled through. Fulham simply failed to raise the temperature until a late rally and paid the price for their lack of colour.
The champions may be there for the taking, an off-colour malaise having replaced their early season verve, but their nearest neighbours were simply not up to the task.
Chelsea were predictably dominant early on, but the pace was not there, the cutting edge blunted. Manager Carlo Ancelotti was soon standing with his arms outstretched, imploring more, irritated by the casualness. Fulham, obdurate and organised, defended deep, with Dempsey bolstering the midfield.
There was a glimpse from Drogba, almost speeding around Aaron Hughes, only for the defender to recover. From the corner, John Terry's header skimmed across goal.
Chelsea's best hope was to draw Fulham out, especially as they were missing both first-choice full-backs, with 19-year-old Matthew Briggs making his full Premier League debut some three years after his first appearance.
Chelsea were also depleted. The absence of Nicolas Anelka and Frank Lampard reduced the goal threat. Drogba was pressed into service, and he played a crucial -- and a touch controversial -- part in Essien's goal on the half hour.
Salomon Kalou galloped to the touch-line to retrieve a clearance, turned and crossed. Drogba was lying prone in the penalty area, perhaps distracting the Fulham defence, and Essien -- returning from a toe injury -- headed easily home from eight yards. Drogba stayed on the turf throughout the celebrations, but then recovered.
Before that Mark Schwarzer had beaten out a dipping free kick from the striker, who was then unlucky to be penalised as he appeared simply to outmuscle Hughes.
The goal changed the dynamic of the contest. Fulham had to press on, to provide support for the previously isolated Moussa Dembele, and Dickson Etuhu missed the opportunity for a bit of early redemption by mistiming a header at a corner. But it also opened up the possibilities for Chelsea, and Kalou should have capitalised. Florent Malouda worked his way down the left and cut back a cross which picked him out. Unmarked, he miscued his shot.
Soon after, the Ivorian pulled away down the other flank to run on to Yuri Zhirkov's pass. He sprinted into the area and shot across Schwarzer, but also narrowly wide. Moments later Briggs did well to deny Kalou as he slid in to meet Malouda's low centre and then, on half-time, Stephen Kelly appeared to pull back Ashley Cole as he burst into the area. No penalty.
Chelsea had been wasteful, but Fulham were unable to drum this up into a red-blooded derby, and even when Essien upended Dempsey with a late, high tackle it provoked merely a ripple of a response along with a yellow card.
Interestingly, Drogba then implored Damien Duff -- which he did -- to put the ball out of play as Essien hit the ground following a challenge. Should Kalou have done the same in the build-up to the goal?
As play resumed Schwarzer failed to clear and the ball broke to Drogba, whose low, goal-bound drive was blocked by Hughes.
There were then three narrow misses by Chelsea in the same sequence.
Schwarzer blocked Malouda at point-blank range, then beat out Mikel's drive from distance and finally Malouda screwed wide.
At last Fulham served a warning. Dembele again broke, switching play to find Dempsey. His drive from distance was fierce and swerving and Petr Cech was alert to palm away superbly. It encouraged the visitors to press on, leaving them vulnerable to the counter. Mark Hughes threw on two more attackers.
Could they expose Chelsea's profligacy? Immediately, substitute Zoltan Gera drew another smart save from Cech as he volleyed back John Terry's header from the area's edge before Dempsey -- later to cause anger with an apparent elbow on Jose Bosingwa, who had to be replaced -- had the goalkeeper scrambling across goal with an overhead kick.
They pushed on, increasingly frantic. There was no goal, just an ugly conclusion with Essien dismissed, lunging at Dempsey, perhaps seeking retribution. (© Daily Telegraph, London)