One of these teams is in the Champions League semi-final, but you wouldn’t know it from watching the game. Which is a bad thing, I suppose, as it’ll only confirm to Clint Dempsey what he probably already knows: he can play with the top players because he is one of the top players.
Dempsey it was who scored Fulham’s well deserved equaliser tonight, a free header from a corner that hobbled into the far corner of the net teasingly slowly. 1-1 was just about justice, although had there been extra time I think the men in white shirts might have prevailed.
They all did their bit. The back four looks just as good as Chelsea’s unit, with Hangeland, Hughes and Riise all top class and Stephen Kelly not far off. A midfield three of Diarra, Murphy and Dembele was equally impressive, Diarra authoring his best game for the whites with a superlative display of midfield intelligence. At times there seemed to be two of him on the pitch. Further forward Damian Duff did as he usually does – he’s certainly back to top form – and on the other flank Kerim Frei put in a revelation stint until he ran out of gas just as Ivanovic started to look like a red card waiting to happen. Nevertheless, Frei’s rehabilitation was thrilling, his directness and pace causing his opponents serious concerns. Dempsey played centre-forward, fought hard, and got another goal. He’s quite something.
The match itself was a thriller. Both teams looked to play the ball on the deck, passing and moving quickly. The result was a blur of blue and white under the floodlights, with plenty of good attacking approach work and some intriguing battles. The game shifted this way and that in its momentum, but a feeling grew that they weren’t really hurting us, that their shots were a little forced, and that we only had to keep going and something good might materialise (certainly Cech was the busier keeper).
Then things changed, Kalou jigged into the area and drew a challenge from Murphy that looked messy but fair. Mark Clattenberg pointed to the spot, and Fulham protested sincerely. It was hard to know what might have happened from where we sat, although Murphy’s body language suggested injustice. We later found out that the award was for contact by Stephen Kelly, for which we might just as well say “are you really fit to referee then?” because Kelly’s contact was minimal and certainly didn’t bring Kalou down. Another soft penalty for a big team, and while we don’t usually go in for conspiracy theories, (and we do remember last year’s award for Luis’s trip) that’s two iffy penalty decisions against us in short order, against Manchester United and Chelsea. So, you know, if it looks like a duck and all that.
Nevertheless, Frank Lampard stepped up and fired the ball past Schwarzer (who for all his positive characteristics, never seems to come close to saving penalties), celebrating in front of the Hammersmith End like a man with something to prove: “I am the great Frank Lampard, the very wealthy Frank Lampard, and I have just scored against you pathetic nobodies!” or something. Whatever, he didn’t really do anything else in the game and was thoroughly outplayed by our midfield three, so anyway.
As ever, the second half roared into life on the hour, the game opening up and giving Fulham fans much to cheer. We started to dominate the midfield even more, and forced Cech into some good saves, not least a parry from Aaron Hughes that defied belief. But we beat him with that Dempsey header and almost did so again soon after when Orlando Sa (part of a new bench featuring Kasami and Briggs, too!) climbed high but headed too near to the goalkeeper.
Never mind. We did really well and fully deserved the point.