A thrilling derby in which Clint Dempsey and Frank Lampard scored two goals each.
Fulham went ahead early on. Simon Davies – restored to dead ball duties in Jimmy Bullard’s absence – bent in a wicked cross from the left flank which Dempsey flipped into the net from a yard out. How the ball made its way so far without being cleared was something of a mystery, but without John Terry the Chelsea defence seemed half-vulnerable all day. It was a typical piece of opportunism from Dempsey, and a fantastic start to the game.
Chelsea – who let’s remember, have an astonishing away record this year – responded aggressively, coming close on a number of occasions. Didier Drogba was intensely physical and the whites were struggling to contain him. Things got worse, Anelka being introduced for the injured Malouda. Anelka’s first act was to smash a shot from distance that Mark Schwarzer *just* kept out, possibly with his elbow. Perhaps the hardest hit shot we’ve seen at the Cottage this year. Frank Lampard belted the ball goalwards but Schwarzer stopped that one too. Chelsea had a series of corners, but could not find a way through. Fulham – pegged back but remarkably assured – went in a goal up.
Then followed a whirlwhind of attacking football. Local rivalry or not, sometimes you have to tip your hat; Chelsea were very good. Their formation effectively became a 2-1-4-3, with two centre-backs protected by the impressive Mikel, Bosingwa and Cole flying down the wings, Lampard and Deco pulling strings from all over the place, and Anelka, Drogbda and Cole/Kalou making merry up front. It was an absolute onslaught and it paid off straight away, Drogba breaking clear (a possible hand-ball?), turning the back infield, then…. a mixup? The ball fell loose to Lampard who converted the open goal.
They didn’t stop there, and for a time Fulham were reduced to lamping long balls as far as they could to try to get a breather. A harsh free-kick was awarded, Lampard stepped up, sent a piledriver through from distance, and bang! in it went. Did it skip off the turf? Take a deflection? The Fulham players looked stunned. The early goal was now a distant memory, and we hadn’t troubled Petr Cech since. The fear was that we might be buried.
But Hodgson’s team are made of stern stuff, and straightaway the Whites pulled themselves together. John Paintsil made a point of geeing up his colleagues, reminding them that this was far from over. Good man, heads were sinking. Simon Davies – who had a fine game at last – reasserted himself, Dempsey and Paintsil resumed their battle with Ashley Cole down the right, and we had a game on again. Murphy attacked, got caught upfield, but who was covering for him? Andy Johnson! Smart play, selfless play. We still needed a goal though. Zamora made way for Nevland, Andreasen came on for Etuhu (who had a fair first start), and back we went. Time running out, a corner on the right, that man Davies whips it in, and up, up goes Clint Dempsey. The ball spins goalwards! It’s in! It’s bloody in! Dempsey rips his shirt off in delight, sprinting towards the Hammy End. When the euphoria dies down the referee, apologetically, shows him a yellow card.
Post script: under the Johnny Haynes Stand, Mens toilets. An early leaver has returned, panicked: “who scored?” he implores. The Times’ legendary football writer Brian Glanville emerges from the toilet: “Dempsey, header” he declares, firmly but with some pleasure. “Dempsey, header” indeed. What a day.