Blues win is cruel on Cottagers

Zoltan Gera gave Roy Hodgson’s side a fairytale start at Stamford

Bridge when he struck after just four minutes and Fulham looked

comfortable for the first hour. But then Chelsea moved through the

gears and were rewarded with two goals in two minutes, with Didier

Drogba notching the equaliser before the pressure forced defender

Chris Smalling to concede an own goal. It was a cruel blow for

Fulham who defended heroically until the Blues’ onslaught began to

take its toll. The 20-year-old Smalling, deputising for the injured

Brede Hangeland, will feel particularly aggrieved after making a

fine full debut – until he turned the ball into his own net.

Chelsea’s unconvincing performance, which was one dimensional and

lacked imagination, will have given their title rivals further

encouragement that the championship race is far from over. Jose

Mourinho, watching from the stands in preparation for Inter Milan’s

Champions League clash against his former club, will also have been

encouraged by what he saw. Carlo Ancelotti reacted to Chelsea’s run

of just one victory in five matches by making six changes. Only

John Terry remained from the back four that started the goalless

drew against Birmingham with Ricardo Carvalho, Yury Zhirkov and

Paulo Ferreira joining him. Midfielders Joe Cole and Michael

Ballack also returned, while Drogba and Salomon Kalou played their

last matches in club colours before heading off to the African

Nations Cup. But despite the shake-up Chelsea suffered from an

abysmal lack of penetration in the final third where vast reams of

possession were wasted amid a flurry of mishit shots. In contrast,

Fulham were able to unpick their opponents as early as the fourth

minute. Paul Konchesky found acres of space on the left before

launching a cross that deceived Terry and the England skipper

watched in horror as Bobby Zamora, stationed six yards out, found

Gera. The Hungarian was stood at point blank range but still had

work to do as he controlled the ball, turned and planted his shot

beyond Petr Cech. Gera celebrated with a back flip but whatever the

scoreline said it was all Chelsea with Fulham struggling to string

more than a couple of passes together. Only resolute defending was

keeping the blue horde at bay with Konchesky executing a well-timed

tackle on Lampard as the England midfielder weaved his way into the

area. For all their possession, however, Chelsea were failing to

create any chances and were becoming less of a threat as the match

progressed. Cech had to palm a shot by Clint Dempsey over the

crossbar after the American had been expertly set up by Zamora,

whose physical presence was causing Chelsea problems. Referee Andre

Marriner told captains Danny Murphy and Terry to speak with John

Pantsil and Drogba in response to the African rivals’ running

battle. It was then Schwarzer’s turn to talk to Drogba following

his challenge on Pantsil and moments later the Ivorian was floored

by a kick from his nemesis after his thunderbolt had been blocked.

Chelsea enjoyed a lucky escape seconds after the interval when

poorly-judged backpass by Carvalho was intercepted by Zamora, whose

shot cannoned off the leg of the advancing Cech. Schwarzer was

pressed into action on the hour when he made a fine stop of

Drogba’s curling effort from the edge of the area. Fulham’s defence

was finally starting to creak but two poor shots by Kalou and

Lampard let them off the hook. Chelsea replaced Mikel with Daniel

Sturridge and Fulham brought on Andy Johnson for Gera as the match

entered the final 20 minutes. The equaliser finally arrived in the

73rd minute, substitute Branislav Ivanovic picking out Drogba who

rose above Chris Baird at the far post to nod home. And two minutes

later Chelsea stormed ahead when Smalling, attempting to clear

Schwarzer’s save of Sturridge’s shot, turned the ball into his own

net for the winner.