Chris Coleman entered his third match in caretaker charge of Fulham knowing that his side were huge underdogs at Stamford Bridge when they faced a pre-Roman Ambramovich, but in-form, Chelsea outfit.
The Blues were closing in on fourth place in the Premiership, and the financial and footballing rewards that came with such an achievement, and were finishing the campaign with a flourish, winning five of their previous six league matches prior to the SW6 derby.
Fulham, by contrast, were still not safe from the drop, although a win in Coleman’s first game in charge against Newcastle United had given the Whites some breathing space over West Ham United who occupied the final relegation spot.
The home side saw the game’s first chance come and go in the ninth minute when Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was played in by Gianfranco Zola. The striker rounded goalkeeper Maik Taylor – who was preferred to Edwin van der Sar – but a combination of Steve Finnan and Andy Melville prevented his shot from crossing the line.
Sean Davis then saw his effort fly off target before Hasselbaink was profligate again when he headed over. The Whites worried Carlo Cudicini for the first time on 34 minutes when Lee Clark’s well-struck effort was unconvincingly kept out by the Italian at his near post.
Chelsea took the lead shortly after through a huge chunk of luck when Alain Goma turned the ball into his own goal. Zola’s free-kick came off the bar and fell to 22-year-old John Terry who could only force the ball against a post, with Goma helpless to prevent it ricocheting into the back of the net via his arm.
Fulham looked for a way back into the match before half-time, with Elvis Hammond – who was making only his second start for the Club – forcing a smart stop from Cudicini.
Chelsea boss Claudio Ranieri sent his side out after the interval looking to kill the game off, and they would have done were it not for Taylor’s heroics. First, the Northern Ireland international brilliantly kept out Hasselbaink’s diving header, before he defied the odds to turn an effort from Frank Lampard over the bar from three yards.
And Chelsea were made to rue their misses as Davis found Luis Boa Morte in space down the right with 66 minutes on the clock. The winger showed neat footwork to bamboozle both Graeme Le Saux and Marcel Desailly, before bending an immaculate left-footed shot beyond Cudicini and inside the far post.
Both teams had chances to win the game, as Taylor had to be on hand to tip Zola’s long-range strike over the bar, before Fulham substitute John Collins shaved the top of the woodwork with a bending effort in stoppage time. A point apiece was a fair reflection of the game, though, with the Whites’ disciplined display more than worthy of a point.
From the archives
The Guardian – Monday 28th April 2003
‘Ranieri keeps frustration bottled as delirium tremens rock Blues’ by Jon Brodkin