The Independent

Monday 15 April 2002

From the Independent

On a day when injury stalked two England centre-backs in the first FA Cup semi-final, John Terry used the second last night to demonstrate the qualities which might have found him being put on World Cup stand-by today but for a court case this summer.

The Chelsea defender, sporting a headband in the best traditions of Terry Butcher and Steve Foster to protect a wound sustained when he collided with a post against Everton recently, even found time during a commanding display to score the goal which finished off Fulham five minutes before half-time.

Claudio Ranieri's team thus go through to face Arsenal in Cardiff the first all-London final since Tottenham overcame Queen's Park Rangers in 1982 in a pairing which also guaranteed Leeds a Uefa Cup place next season. Fulham, meanwhile, were left to focus on Premiership survival.

Chelsea, who have won the trophy twice in the past five years, deserved their success, even if the Battle of SW6 proved a phoney war at times. They created the more clear-cut openings, with Fulham's second-half fightback producing little tangible threat to Carlo Cudicini's goal.

Jean Tigana's side have not scored twice in a League match since November, so Terry's opportunism, following a goalkeeping gaffe by Edwin van der Sar, was always likely to be decisive.

Victory came at a price for Chelsea, however. Their left-back, Graeme Le Saux, was carried off after only three minutes with a calf injury and may miss the final on 4 May. His deputy, Albert Ferrer, performed soundly alongside Terry and the majestic Marcel Desailly. Just as well, because Ranieri's expected match-winners, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Eidur Gudjohnsen, can seldom have been so ineffectual.

Incredibly for a derby with a final place at stake, albeit a west London affair staged in Birmingham on a Sunday evening, the stadium was 6,000 below capacity. Fulham had failed to sell all their tickets, leaving large swathes of empty claret seats in the Doug Ellis Stand.

The Chelsea sections were bulging and buoyant. In the "Other Doug Ellis Stand", as Ken Bates had impishly dubbed the imposing new structure, their followers followed up a pre-match flurry of celery sticks hurled at the opposing chairman, Mohamed Al Fayed with a barrage of noise.

They were temporarily silenced when Le Saux crumpled to the turf almost before you could say "metatarsal". Le Saux, who had been stretching to clear the ball, could muster no more than a thin grin in response to the Chelsea supporters' sympathetic applause when he hobbled along the touchline on crutches 20 minutes later.

Despite the setback, Chelsea looked the more confident and positive side during the first-half sparring. But while they had the greater share of possession, they struggled to bring Hasselbaink and Gudjohnsen into the action in the face of relentless pressuring by Fulham.

The underdogs, in fact, had the best scoring opportunity before the goal. It came shortly before the half-hour, just when Tigana must have been despairing of one of his midfielders ever breaking in support of an isolated front two.

Sylvain Legwinski ran at the Chelsea defence, and on reaching the 18-yard area played a deft one-two with Steve Marlet. Carlo Cudicini made a marvellous one-handed save from Legwinski's drive.

Prior to that, Fulham had been thankful to see Van der Sar doing what he does best. Perversely for one who stands 6ft 7in, his strength is shot-stopping. The Dutchman showed great agility to arch backwards and claw out Terry's 12th-minute volley. Then he kept the ball out with his feet after Mario Stanic swerved past Andy Melville and John Collins in a thrilling slalom.

From the ensuing corner we saw what Van der Sar does worst. Fatally for Fulham, that is catching flag-kicks. He was nowhere near the ball which his compatriot, Hasselbaink, landed in the six-yard box. The ball broke off Mario Melchiot to Terry, whose momentum had carried him to the dead-ball line. From a difficult angle he played the ball back in low, whereupon it struck Louis Saha on the line and shot into the net.

Facing a familiar scenario their only wins in the previous 11 fixtures came in the Cup Fulham began the second period with an urgency and spirit which suggested they believed the tie was far from over. The pace of Marlet and Saha at last made Terry and Desailly turn and face their goal.

At one point, Collins embarked on a dribble into the Chelsea area which left three defenders standing. There was to be no Ricky Villa-style romance, though, the Scot being crowded out by blue shirts. Rolling the ball wide to Steed Malbranque, Collins was irritated to see him cross wastefully over the bar.

Fulham could not sustain their impetus, their revival merely rousing Chelsea from their languor. Jesper Gronkjaer, hitherto virtually invisible, at last delivered a worthwhile cross from which Emmanuel Petit trundled wide in the 64th minute. Two minutes later, Gudjohnsen's chip from the right sailed over Van der Sar and slapped against the far upright before being cleared.

As a familiar story unfolded for Fulham, one of pressure without penetration, Chelsea should have added to their lead on the break. Gronkjaer twice set up Gudjohnsen for what looked certain goals. Both were wretchedly spurned, but that did not prevent Ranieri repeatedly using one word later when summing up the contributions of Desailly and Terry: "Fantastic."