Lackluster Chelsea draws 0-0 with Fulham

Chelsea was held to a second straight 0-0 draw under interim
manager Rafa Benitez as Fulham claimed a deserved point at Stamford
Bridge on Wednesday, dropping the hosts further off the pace in the
Premier League.

Benitez was hoping a victory against Chelsea’s west London
neighbor would kick start the process of winning over fans unhappy
about his controversial hiring last week, following the firing of
Roberto Di Matteo.

However this result and lackluster performance will only
increase the ire of supporters, with Chelsea creating few
opportunities in a dour game.

”I am a little frustrated,” Benitez said. ”Overall I think we
are watching things that are positive (but) we have to play with a
higher tempo for the players that we have up front.”

Fernando Torres, who is hoping to return to form under the
manager he played under at Liverpool, squandered Chelsea’s only
genuine chance in the first half, and it was Fulham that finished
the stronger.

”It is pretty decent to get a point, but I feel we should l
have nicked it in the second half,” Fulham manager Martin Jol
said. ”Our shape was good, they had a lot of pressure but we have
three or four good chances – nine times out of 10 we would have
broken them.”

Chelsea is now winless in four home league games – its worst run
in nearly 10 years – and seven points off leader Manchester United,
which beat West Ham 1-0 on Wednesday.

Although boos rang out at the fulltime whistle, Benitez was
spared the kind of fan hostility that was directed at him in the
moments prior to Sunday’s 0-0 draw against Manchester City, his
first game in charge.

Instead, there was general apathy inside the ground when the
Spaniard and his team emerged from the tunnel – and Chelsea’s
first-half play failed to lift the atmosphere.

The only decent opening created by the home side came when right
back Cesar Azpilicueta crossed to the out-of-form Torres, who
controlled the ball, span and fired a low shot straight goalkeeper
Mark Schwarzer.

Otherwise, the Fulham defense – lacking suspended captain Brede
Hangeland but protected by a hard-working, five-man midfield –
coped comfortably.

The home support was roused briefly when a chorus of ”There’s
only one Di Matteo” rang around Stamford Bridge in the 16th
minute, the shirt number of the deposed manager when he was a
Chelsea player.

Apathy and frustration turned to alarm 10 minutes into the
second half when Giorgos Karagounis’ superb crossfield pass set
John Arne Riise free, but the left back fluffed his close-range
shot to allow Petr Cech an easy block.

Juan Mata, arguably Chelsea’s best player this season, was
introduced just after the hour mark after surprisingly starting on
the bench and his corner was headed just wide by Branislav Ivanovic
in the 66th.

However, it was Fulham that was gradually asserting control,
with Riise again testing Cech with a fierce strike that was palmed
away by the Czech Republic goalkeeper to preserve a point for
Chelsea.