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