Fulham were defeated 1-0 by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night.
Fulham Academy graduate Matthew Briggs was named in Mark Hughes’ starting eleven on Wednesday night for the West London derby against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. The promising England U21 international made his first Premier League start in the absence of the injured Carlos Salcido.
Whilst Briggs’ selection was the talking point prior to kick-off, Hughes’ formation saw a change of tact, with the Whites lining up in a 4-1-4-1 formation following last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Aston Villa.
Danny Murphy played the holding role in front of defence, whilst Clint Dempsey featured in central midfield alongside Dickson Etuhu. Damien Duff and Simon Davies started on the flanks with Mousa Dembele taking up the role of lone striker.
Carlo Ancelotti tweaked his line-up following Sunday’s Premier League defeat to Liverpool, with three changes to his starting eleven. Didier Drogba, Michael Essien and Jose Boswinga all returned for Wednesday night’s 7.45pm kick-off.
On what was a dry but cold November night in Fulham, Chelsea applied the pressure during the early stages of the match but Hughes’ side pressed hard, denying Chelsea the possession required to carve out any opportunities of note.
Matthew Briggs certainly made an assured start to the match at left back, keeping Kalou and company quiet down Fulham’s left flank. During the first quarter of the match there were glimpses of promise for Fulham in the final third through Mousa Dembele. Moving forward as a unit Fulham showed that there were chinks in Chelsea’s armour to be exploited.
Hughes’ side had silenced the Bridge by the 15 minute mark. In fact the vocal support came from the supporters from SW6 in the away end. After 20 minutes of play Matthew Briggs fired in Fulham’s first serious effort on goal. The left back stormed forward over the half way line before unleashing a low 30-yard drive towards goal. Cech collected comfortably but the youngster was marrying calmness with confidence on the ball as the minutes passed.
Chelsea pressed forward following Briggs’ effort with Mikel and Drogba both trying their luck from distance. Schwarzer saved both efforts with ease. Fulham were proving stubborn opponents on Wednesday night. That was to change right before the half hour mark when Essien handed Chelsea the lead when he pulled in front of Etuhu six yards from goal to meet Zhirkov’s cross from the left. Essien buried his headed effort into the back of the net.
Five minutes after Chelsea’ goal Fulham enjoyed a sustained period of pressure, earning two corners in quick succession, but clear cut chances proving hard to come by. At the other end Kalou missed a glorious opportunity to double the home side’s lead five minutes from the break. Zhirkov’s cross from the left found the striker in a central position but his half-volley looped over the goal.
A minute later Kalou had his second strike on goal in as many minutes. Breaking through Fulham’s defence down the left flank his strike across goal fortunately flew wide of Schwarzer’s far post. It was a fortunate left off for Fulham with the score at 1-0 at half-time.
Both teams remained unchanged for the second half as Mousa Dembele challenged Chelsea’s defence from the off with some probing runs from deep. His close control and skill in possession were a threat but Chelsea had numbers in defence to stifle the Belgium.
Five minutes into the second period Essien was booked for a foul on Dempsey as both teams added more bite to their play for the second 45. The tone and tempo of the match was sharper and Briggs was the next to be clipped as he drove down the left flank, earning Murphy a set piece opportunity from deep.
Briggs was certainly making progress down the left flank, with the pace and strength to beat his man, as he proved on 53 minutes with a fine dribble from the half way line to Chelsea’s 18-yard line.
Kalou thought he had added a second 10 minutes into the second half when his low drive from the right hand side of the area flew under Schwarzer’s body. The keeper had taken the sting out of the shot but as the ball drifted towards Fulham’s empty net, Aaron Hughes steamed in to clear the ball off the line.
As the hour mark approached Mark Hughes made his first substitution of the match, introducing striker Andrew Johnson for Dickson Etuhu. Clint Dempsey joined Johnson in attack, with Dembele slipping back into midfield.
Aaron Hughes delivered further heroics in defence after 65 minutes with another last ditch challenge to deny Chelsea a chance on goal in the area. Chelsea had moved up a gear as the final twenty minutes approached but Fulham were holding firm with Schwarzer pulling off two superb saves to deny Drogba and Essien in quick succession.
If Schwarzer’s save was impressive, Cech matched him at the other end with a fingertip save to deny Dempsey’s long range effort. The strike was venomous and dipped perfectly under the bar but Cech's save was world class.
Fulham were certainly not getting the rub of the green on Wednesday night as several decisions went in Chelsea’s favour. Cole was next to follow Essien into the book following a late challenge before Carlo Ancelotti made a defensive substitution, replacing Malouda with Ramires.
Mark Hughes followed suit immediately following Ramires’ introduction, bringing on Zoltan Gera for Matthew Briggs on 78 minutes. Two minutes later Cech was Chelsea’s saviour again, saving Gera’s thumping volley from 25 yards with an instinctive parry. Fulham were getting closer but time was running out.
Immediately following Gera’s shot, Dempsey tried his luck with a overhead kick from the 18 yard line. This time Cech was beaten but the ball agonisingly drifted wide of the far post. The final ten minutes were played out in Chelsea’s half as Fulham fought desperately for an equaliser.
The Whites pressed hard during the closing stages, and Chelsea had their keeper to thank for keeping the score at 1-0 as the game ran into four minutes of added time. In the final minute of added time Essien was sent off for a late challenge on Dempsey on the half way line seconds before the final whistle.
Hughes’ team matched Chelsea man-for-man on Wednesday night but the points went to the home side. Fulham can count themselves unfortunate not to have left Stamford Bridge with a point after an impressive second half performance. The next stop for Fulham is a Barclays Premier League encounter against Newcastle at St. James’ Park this Saturday.