Best of the rest

Tuesday 24 September 2002

FROM THE TELEGRAPH - By John Ley

Claudio Ranieri's 100th game in charge of Chelsea could have seen his side elevated to the lofty heights of second in the Premiership. Instead, determined Fulham held their neighbours to a goalless draw on a night of passion and no little entertainment.

Ranieri, who has won exactly 50 of his century of games in charge, maintained an animated presence on the touchline throughout but ultimately a draw was a fair result, allowing Chelsea the chance at least to move above Tottenham into third place.

Ranieri went into his milestone match exactly two years to the day since his first Chelsea outing, a 3-3 draw at Old Trafford. In his time at Stamford Bridge, the Italian has enjoyed relative success: Arsene Wenger won 51 of his first 100 Arsenal games while Sir Alex Ferguson's early return with Manchester United was less impressive, with 48 wins from 100.

Ranieri's predecessor, Gianluca Vialli, won 54 of his opening century - not to mention a few trophies - so Ranieri has some way to go to make the club's Hall of Fame.

On a mild London night, Chelsea's injury troubles were exacerbated by the absence, with a calf problem, of Marcel Desailly. The World Cup winner joined fellow defenders Albert Ferrer, Celestine Babayaro, John Terry and Graeme Le Saux, not to mention Emmanuel Petit and Carlton Cole, on Chelsea's extended treatment table.

Ranieri also recalled Frank Lampard, Boudewijn Zenden and Mario Melchiot, with Eidur Gudjohnsen and Jesper Gronkjaer dropping to the substitutes' bench.

Jean Tigana included Zat Knight and Pierre Wome, while Louis Saha was absent for the third successive game with a hamstring problem.

That Chelsea went into the game boasting an impressive record in west London derby affairs did little to deter Fulham. Not since September 1960 had Chelsea lost a top-flight game at Fulham's previous home of Craven Cottage and arrived boasting an intimidating record of having lost just four times in 23 visits.

Fulham, however, had won the opening four games at their temporary home of Loftus Road and the early exchanges suggested they were not keen to blemish that record. Sylvain Legwinski tried one hopeful 40-yard lob while, in the 16th minute from Steed Malbranque's lofty left-wing cross, Steve Marlet got behind teenager Robert Huth but directed his header wide.

Chelsea's early response was limited to a Gianfranco Zola drive from 30 yards before the Italian set Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink free, but he shot straight at Edwin van der Sar.

Barry Hayles then squandered an opportunity for Fulham, who were playing the more controlled football, and Chelsea appeared rattled. Junichi Inamoto was also denied by the acrobatics of goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini.

Chelsea responded twice before the interval; Lampard allowed Zenden a chance he wasted - his shot bobbling safely wide of the right post - and then Hasselbaink headed narrowly over from Enrique De Lucas's free kick.

De Lucas was also at the heart of Chelsea's best move after the interval when Hasselbaink, squeezing in between two defenders, headed his cross narrowly wide. Hasselbaink scored the first goal for Ranieri, at Old Trafford, and he was unfortunate not to add his first in the Premiership this season.

FROM THE TIMES - By Alyson Rudd

CLAUDIO RANIERI has now been in charge of Chelsea for 100 matches. Most have been eventful, even if they have not combined to produce tangible success. This, though, was one of the more pedestrian affairs.

Ranieri may have wished to reassert his team's right to be called the leading power in West London and Chelsea would have jumped into second place in the Barclaycard Premiership with a convincing victory, but for now third position will have to suffice and, given the injury list at Stamford Bridge, that is no mean feat.

Fulham, meanwhile, must hope that they have not reverted to ways of old. They struggled to find the net throughout last season and there was an ominously familiar air at Loftus Road. But Ranieri had words of comfort for Jean Tigana's side. "Fulham could be the surprise of the season," he said, "and maybe fight with us for the place in the Champions League."

Ranieri had complained last week that everyone thought he had a problem over which of his strikers to select when they were all in form. The real problem, he said, was when he had no cover in defence. It was as though he could foresee the difficulties he would face last night.

An injury picked up by Marcel Desailly simply added to a long list of defensive casualties and few would have predicted the back four they fielded for such an emotive fixture. Even Winston Bogarde, who last turned out on Boxing Day 2000, was on the substitutes' bench.

Tigana was forced to make changes to his back line, too - any Fulham side looks weakened when Steve Finnan is missing and, in his absence, there was some sloppy passing around the edge of their area - but his team set out to test Chelsea's defence with some spirited forays.

Chelsea withstood the early pressure well. Mario Stanic, continuing as emergency left back, was caught in possession by Barry Hayles, but as he advanced on goal, Stanic recovered to make an impressive sliding tackle.

A tenacious run by Steed Malbranque, incorporating a one-two with Sean Davis, deserved more in the 28th minute than a corner, but Chelsea at last looked rattled and Junichi Inamoto was given the space to set up Sylvain Legwinski for a strike that was goalbound but blocked.

Frank Lampard, meanwhile, continued where he had left off last Thursday, when he came on as a substitute for Chelsea against Viking FK in the Uefa Cup, and added a touch of class in front of Tord Grip, Sven-Göran Eriksson's right-hand man. Lampard spied the run of Boudewijn Zenden, but Zenden put his effort wide. Immediately after, Hayles should have put Fulham ahead but blasted over.

Towards the end of the first half, Inamoto brought out the best in Carlo Cudicini when the Japan midfield player swerved to make space for a strike inside the area and the Chelsea goalkeeper dived alertly to his left to tip the ball to safety.

The adaptable Enrique De Lucas, playing wide last night, then provided a highly inviting cross for Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink which the Holland striker met with a diving header that he placed wide.
Fulham began the second half quietly, but Luis Boa Morte came on as a substitute and enlivened proceedings with a bold run through the heart of the Chelsea defence. Boa Morte stole the ball from the path of Mario Melchiot in the seventieth minute and fed it through to Steve Marlet, but he could not quite capitalise.

Chelsea's makeshift defence stood firm, not least because of the performance of Robert Huth, the 18-year-old German centre back who was making his full Premiership debut. Despite some ungainly efforts in the opposition's half, he kept his nerve even in the midst of a fairly intimidating atmosphere. Huth even looked agile in attack in the 83rd minute, when his low drive forced a save.

"He was fantastic," Ranieri said. Tigana said that his players were tired after their trip to Croatia in the Uefa Cup. Ranieri could have no such excuse, Chelsea having played the first leg of their tie at home - and arguably having not overly exerted themselves in that game.

FROM THE INDEPENDENT - By Steve Tongue

Fulham's attempts to beat their least loved rivals in the top flight for the first time since September 1960 came to naught on a night of much heat but little light at Loftus Road. As half-chance after half-chance drifted away, the most relevant statistic, instead, became the final log of shots: out of 19, almost evenly split, a mere four were on target and perhaps two gave the respective goalkeepers any serious trouble.

Overall, it was the right result for the SW6 derby, transplanted to London W12, and one that enabled Chelsea to maintain their unbeaten record this season, plus local bragging rights by moving into third place in the Premiership. Fulham have not lost in five games at their temporary home, though the move must be proving an expensive one. Even for the most eagerly anticipated fixture of the season, they could sell barely 16,500 tickets.

Their chairman, Mohamed Al Fayed, yesterday cast further doubt on the likelihood of returning to Craven Cottage, because of the limited capacity, at the same time as raising the red herring of a ground-share with Chelsea, which would not be allowed under planning restrictions. Verbal hostilities in the stands last night suggested such a move would hardly find favour with either set of supporters.

On the pitch, Chelsea found their makeshift defence kept under pressure by Steve Marlet and Barry Hayles, continuing as Jean Tigana's favoured pairing in attack.

The visitors' injury worries had not improved, the absence of the captain, Marcel Desailly, hardly being counterbalanced by Mario Melchiot's return, let alone the appearance of a forgotten man, Winston Bogarde, on the substitutes' bench. The Dutch defender has not been seen in the first-team for almost two years, since when he has resisted all attempts to move him on.

Furthermore, Mario Stanic's uncertain positioning in an unfamiliar role at left-back made him vulnerable, as it had done in the narrow victory over Viking, of Norway, last Thursday. He was not covering as Marlet, unmarked, failed to direct a header from Steed Malbranque's cross straight enough early on. Carlo Cudicini's only save arrived just before the interval, falling to his left to push away a shot by Junichi Inamoto after William Gallas headed out a cross from the left.

Chelsea were equally unable to make the opposing goalkeeper earn his corn, however; Gianfranco Zola, captain for the night, shot over the bar from 25 yards and Boudewijn Zenden, played in by Frank Lampard's astute pass, sent a drive fizzing beyond the far post.

Two sides beaten only once between them this season in 21 previous games while keeping only one clean sheet each might have been expected to have produced more excitement in and around the goalmouth.

Early exchanges in the second half brought only similar efforts at either end, skewed wide of a post first by the out-of-sorts Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, who dived in bravely on to Enrique de Lucas's centre, and then Marlet, meeting a cross from Abdes Ouaddou at a similarly awkward angle.

The ever-excellent Malbranque excepted, Chelsea's close passing and control were slightly the better, and a smart move instigated by Zola brought their next opportunity, Melchiot taking the Italian's pass in his stride down the flank and putting in a tantalising cross that Hasselbaink again reached first, but hooked over the bar.

Attacking substitutions had a positive effect without producing goals. Fulham's Luis Boa Morte was lively from the start, sending Marlet away to shoot wide under pressure and a minute later Chelsea's Jesper Gronkjaer, on for Zenden, went clear, albeit at an angle, from Lampard's pass but hit the legs of Edwin van der Sar.