Fulham and Chelsea offered youth the chance to flourish in the Carling Cup on Wednesday night, with both managers making significant changes to their regular Barclays Premier League and European competition line-ups.
For Fulham, five summer signings featured in Martin Jol’s starting eleven, including deadline day signings Bryan Ruiz, Zdenek Grygera and debutant Orlando Sa.
Alongside recent signings and an experienced defensive line-up, Martin Jol handed promising youngster and former Academy graduate Kerim Frei a Cup debut to cherish.
The home side followed suit, with youngsters Josh McEachran and Ryan Bertrand playing alongside several experienced internationals. The spotlight for Chelsea was firmly set on summer signing Romelu Lukaku.
Whilst Chelsea and Fulham offered revised line-ups for Wednesday night’s match, both Managers selected benches that featured arguably the most senior professionals of both Clubs, should they be required.
It was certainly an open and expansive contest at the Bridge from the first whistle and it soon became clear that Chelsea’s right back Ferreira would be in for a busy night against the speed, close control and youthful exuberance Fulham’s of Matthew Briggs and Kerim Frei. Twice in the first 15 minutes Fulham’s former Academy graduates stormed through the home side’s defence.
During the opening stages Chelsea targeted Fulham’s right flank but Stephen Kelly stood firm to each and every challenge, with Kalou and Malouda posing the questions. One superb sliding challenge by Kelly on Malouda, six yards out, denied the Frenchman a clear scoring opportunity after 15 minutes.
After being denied by Kelly, Malouda turned provider for Kalou two minutes later, with an in-swinging cross from the left flank that the Ivorian striker grazed past Schwarzer’s far post with a deft header.
Kerim Frei showed no fear against established international defenders and on 19 minutes the youngster skipped through a host of Chelsea defenders across the 18 yard line. Frei was denied as he looked to pull the trigger six yards from goal but the teenager greeted Chelsea defence with a constant threat every time the ball was in his possession.
Fulham were immediately caught on the counter attack a minute after Frei’s mazy dribble, with Briggs being dispossessed by Lulaku 30 yards from goal. The 18-year-old striker, physically immense for his age, cantered towards Schwarzer’s goal before forcing the Australian international into a fine save at the near post. The danger was far from over with Kalou blazing over Fulham’s bar seconds later.
After quarter of an hour’s play, Orlando Sa almost scored twice in as many minutes. The Portuguese international just lacked a clinical edge in front of goal, but behind him Bryan Ruiz was beginning to pull the strings for Fulham, with some defence splitting passes from behind Chelsea’s midfield line.
Kerim Frei was at it again just passed the half hour mark, leaving Chelsea’s right side standing as he sped towards Cech’s goal. Fulham certainly had a key to unlock the home side’s defence, who retreated every time Frei raced towards them.
Seven minutes from half time the home crowd were on their feet celebrating as Sturridge finished from close range. However the linesman’s flag was raised and Sturridge was then hit with a double blow as he was forced to retire from the action through injury. Frank Lampard replaced Sturridge.
As half-time approached the match was held up as Cech received treatment following a challenge with Sa in the area, prompting two minutes of added time.
There was a second change for Chelsea at the start of the second half, as goalkeeper Petr Cech was replaced by Ross Turnbull, who was to be the home side’s star performer in the second 45. Whilst Fulham impressed during the first half, they excelled in the second period as the match flourished into a classic cup clash.
Within seconds of the restart Fulham almost had a repeat of Sunday’s match against Manchester City, as Kalou looked certain to score from the right hand side of the area. Lampard’s threaded ball through Fulham’s defence found the striker on the right side of the area but his effort smashed against the side netting.
A minute later drama erupted at Stamford Bridge when Fulham were awarded a penalty by Referee Chris Foy after Kerim Frei was clearly felled by Alex following the cutest of through balls by Bryan Ruiz. Foy had no choice but to brandish his red card to Alex.
Fulham failed to take advantage with Kasami’s penalty well saved by Turnbull. Seconds after Alex walked from the field of play Chelsea introduced John Terry for Josh McEachran.
Moments after Terry’s introduction Chelsea’s defence was breached again as Sa raced into the area. The striker appeared to be tripped inside the box but Chris Foy was unimpressed. With the advantage of a replay Fulham were unfortunate not to given a further chance from the penalty spot.
Martin Jol made his first change of the game on the hour mark, replacing Orlando Sa with Mousa Dembele. The Belgium international’s introduction marked a spell of sustained possession for Fulham. It was impressive play by the visitors, who controlled the tempo and direction of the game for several minutes.
With twenty minutes remaining Fulham almost scored three times in as many minutes but Chelsea had Turnbull in goal to thank for keeping the score level. His most impressive save came from Kasami at close range before Baird fired agonisingly wide seconds later.
Martin Jol introduced Bobby Zamora for Kasami with 13 minutes remaining to spearhead his attack. Neither side let up as extra time approached, as both sides traded attack for attack. It was a classic Cup contest but there was to be only one winner on the night and extra-time beckoned.
After three minutes of added time Chris Foy brought a halt to proceedings before extra-time commenced. Four minutes into the first phase of extra-time Bobby Zamora fired a snapshot effort towards Turnbull, sensing the keeping off his line. Zamora’s effort just lacked the venom to catch Turnbull off guard.
Kerim Frei picked up an unfortunate booking after 97 minutes for a late challenge in the middle of the park. Undeterred the youngster fired in another dangerous cross from the left seconds later that evaded both sets of players in Chelsea’s box.
At the other end Stephen Kelly and Zdenek Grygera performed superbly for Fulham at the back. Both players were faultless in their decision making and with Chris Baird providing a defensive screen in midfield Fulham kept Chelsea at bay.
Both teams approached the second period of extra-time more tentatively as penalties beckoned. However with players such as Ruiz, Dembele and Frei on the pitch, Fulham’s desire to push forward remained potent. However Chelsea played a high defensive line late on which diluted Fulham’s threat in the final third.
With just three minutes left of extra-time Steve Sidwell caught Kelly’s fine cross from the right with a powerful side-footed volley from 12 yards. Sidwell’s connection was true but the ball arrowed over Turnbull’s cross bar. It was agonisingly close for Fulham’s supporters at the other end.
Sidwell’s effort was the final opportunity of the match and after 120 minutes Chris Foy called time and both teams prepared for a penalty shoot-out.
Fulham made a perfect start to the penalty shoot-out with Schwarzer denying Lampard with a fine save. Zamora, Luiz, Sidwell and Terry then proceeded to fire home impressive penalties before the home side were back on level terms when Dembele missed.
With the teams back on level terms the next three penalties were clinically dispatched (Kalou, Baird, Malouda) leaving Bryan Ruiz with the fifth and final strike. Sadly Ruiz' effort came off the underside of the cross bar and away from goal to cruelly end Wednesday’s contest for Fulham.
Chelsea earned their place in the Fourth Round but Fulham will head back down the Fulham Road with their heads held high. On a marvellous night of Cup action in SW6 Fulham showed that their is not only quality in depth within their First Team squad, but players of outstanding potential have emerged from the Club’s Academy ranks.