Chelsea lose pace in dash for top four
Fulham 1 Chelsea 1
CLINT DEMPSEY headed his 16th Premier League goal of the season to earn Fulham a thoroughly deserved point at Craven Cottage last night.
The real winners were Newcastle United in the race for the Champions League positions. Chelsea had needed to win by two goals to climb above Tottenham and into the top four for the first time since February 11.
They had looked on course when Frank Lampard converted a controversial penalty at the end of the first half. It initially appeared to have been awarded by Mark Clattenburg for Danny Murphy's challenge on Salomon Kalou, although Murphy claimed that the referee told him it was for a foul by Stephen Kelly.
When Lampard stroked in his 150th Premier League goal, a remarkable record for a midfielder, Chelsea threatened to go on and overtake Spurs but Fulham, their players and fans, refused to go quietly, and Dempsey brought them just reward on 82 minutes.
Damien Duff's first corner drew a fantastic save by Petr Cech from Aaron Hughes, but the Irishman's follow-up corner caused even more chaos.
Dempsey met it well, angling his header across Cech and in for his 16th Premier League goal of the season. The Hammersmith End loved it, bouncing up and down as their Chelsea counterparts fell silent.
It was another frustrating night for Fernando Torres, who ended on the right wing, although there was the bonus of an assured display from Ryan Bertrand at left-back.
Until Kalou was fouled, gifting Lampard his penalty chance on the cusp of half-time, Fulham had been in the ascendancy, their movement troubling John Terry and Gary Cahill. Fulham had been set up well by Martin Jol.
Murphy anchored the 4-5-1 system, allowing Mahamadou Diarra and particularly Mousa Dembele to push on. Dempsey was the target man lent nimble support by Damien Duff and the left-sided Kerim Frei, who kept running at Branislav Ivanovic.
Clattenburg tried to make allowance for the slippery conditions, letting one foul by Raul Meireles go, although when the referee finally reached for the book it was for a non-existent challenge by Meireles on John Arne Riise.
Then came Frei, turning Ivanovic and Terry inside out, before shooting low and hard, prompting Petr Cech into a sprawling save.
Still Fulham attacked. Riise drilled in a ball cleared by Terry.
Then it was back down the Putney End, Murphy switching play superbly to Riise. Then Frei tried his luck, his shot cannoning away off Cahill.
These were uncomfortable moments for Chelsea's defence but they still turned around ahead, following a naive piece of defending by the experienced Murphy as thoughts turned to half-time.
When Kalou zigzagged into the box, Murphy left the floor in targeting the ball. Yet, according to Murphy, Clattenburg subsequently told him that the offence had been made by Kelly, sending Kalou falling to earth. Lampard stayed composed, sending the penalty low past Mark Schwarzer.
As Chelsea celebrated their fortuitous lead, soon heading down the tunnel, Murphy engaged Clattenburg in a discussion about the award of the penalty. Even when the combatants reappeared for the second period, Murphy continued to debate the decision with the referee.
Bolstered by the goal, Chelsea re-emerged with an improved tempo. Meireles and Ramires attempted to add a second. But Fulham responded to their fans' exhortations, attacking the Hammersmith End with gusto.
Fulham fans were enjoying the enterprise of their team, if ruing the absence of a finishing touch. They certainly enjoyed the sight of Terry's powerful clearance almost snapping Torres into half. (© Daily Telegraph, London)