Roy Hodgson was forced to make one change to his starting eleven for Monday afternoon's clash against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge following last weekend’s draw with Spurs at the Cottage.
Injury forced Brede Hangeland to miss Monday’s West London derby. Chris Smalling was selected alongside Aaron Hughes in central defence. It was Smalling's first Barclays Premier League start for the Whites following a number of notable performances this season in the UEFA Europa League.
Chelsea got the game underway but it was Hodgson's side that took the intiative after just four minutes of play when Zoltan Gera fired the ball past Cech to give the Whites an early lead.
Paul Konchesky created the opportunity for Gera from the left flank, breaching Chelsea’s defence with a well timed overlapping run down the wing. Fulham’s left back delivered a dangerous cross from the by-line which rebounded off Zamora to Gera, positioned with his back to goal on the six yard line. The Hungarian then produced a sublime overhead kick to beat Cech before celebrating in front of Fulham's ecstatic travelling suporters.
The home side's response was a sustained bout of pressure but for all their possession during the opening twenty minutes Fulham’s defence held firm. The home side’s greatest threat came in the form of Drogba, whose long range efforts from the left flank saw Schwarzer produce two fine saves early on.
As the half hour mark approached Ancelotti’s team looked to stamp their authority on the game with some quick, incisive passages of passing play through midfield. However, for all their impressive build up play Chelsea lacked a cutting edge in the final third. Fulham's defensive play was impressive. The Whites were well organised, calm under pressure and evidently more than comfortable throughout the first half.
The game was held up after 30 minutes when John Terry remained grounded after an aerial collision just as Chelsea appeared to be gathering momentum. When play resumed the balance of the play shifted back in Fulham’s favour.
Yet again Konchesky threatened from the left with two dangerous crosses in quick succession before Dempsey forced Cech into a fingertip save with an attempted lob over the keeper from 16 yards. Since Gera’s opener Dempsey’s effort was the best attempt on goal at both ends during the first half.
As half time approached Chelsea attacked from the flanks but Fulham retained their lead with some fine defensive play inside their own area. Chris Smalling made two fine clearances in the final minutes of the first half before John Pantsil denied Drogba with a superb last ditch sliding tackle.
During three minutes of added time Chelsea were awarded a succession of free kicks inside Fulham’s half but all deliveries into a congested penalty area were swiftly dealt with by Hodgson men as the Whites went into the break with a 1-0 lead after a fine first half performance.
Both teams remained unchanged for the second period and Hodgson’s team almost doubled their lead immediately following the restart. A poor back pass to Cech was intercepted by Zamora whose strike on goal was well saved by the keeper at close range.
At the other end Fulham’s central defensive pairing of Smalling and Hughes were outstanding as Chelsea attacked in waves. Ancelotti’s men delivered from the flanks into the danger zone at every opportunity and as the pressure mounted on Fulham, Hodgson’s defence stood tall.
Chris Baird was booked for a challenge on Mikel on 55 minutes before Lampard failed to find a finishing touch in front of goal as the ball rolled along Fulham’s goal line.
On the hour mark Schwarzer produced a world class save to deny Drogba’s goal bound strike from the right hand side of the area. The home crowd were growing increasing frustrated as Fulham’s lead remained intact thanks to several crucial block tackles inside the penalty area.
Both managers made defensive substitutions after 65 minutes. Ancelotti replaced Ferreira with Ivanovic whilst Hodgson introduced Etuhu for Pantsil (injured) with Baird switching to right back.
Further attacking changes for both sides followed with twenty minutes remaining. Sturridge replacing Mikel for the home side whilst Andy Johnson made a welcome return to action in place of Gera.
After 72 minutes Chelsea drew level through Drogba. A deep cross from the right-hand side found the striker at the far post and Drogba headed across goal and past Schwarzer.
Two minutes later Chelsea took a 2-1 lead when Smalling failed to keep a cross from agonisingly crossing the goal line. After defending so impressively for over 70 minutes it was a tough blow for the Whites to concede two goals in as many minutes.
The home side grew in confidence during the later stages of the game as Hodgson made a further attacking change, introducing Riise for Duff on the right flank. In the final minutes of play Riise played a superb cross in from the right but Cech was alert to the danger and saved on the six-yard line.
Fulham went in search of an equaliser in the final minutes of play but could not find a way past Chelsea’s back line and the home side retained their lead and took all three points from Monday afternoon’s West London derby at Stamford Bridge.
Fulham's final fixture of the year may have ended in defeat but 2009 has been the most successful year in the Club's history and Fulham's travelling supporters will be proud of Fulham's performance at Stamford Bridge on Monday.