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Chelsea 0-0 Fulham Premiership Matchday 14 1213 Daily Telegraph

last updated Thursday 29th November 2012, 11:57 AM

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Henry Winter at Daily Telegraph

Chelsea (0) 0 Fulham (0) 0

Under Rafa Benítez, Stamford Bridge has become the home of clean sheets and dark thoughts.

Still seething over the controversial managerial regime change, Chelsea supporters staged a silent protest but they could equally have been struck mute by the soulless quality of the football.

Benítez has had only five training sessions with underachieving players he inherited from the dismissed Roberto Di Matteo.

He clearly needs time to impose his ideas but the sight of October's player of the month, Juan Mata, Chelsea's most consistently creative force, spending an hour on the bench hardly filled home hearts with joy.

Chelsea lacked confidence, focus and leadership, although there was the huge positive of a sparkling eight-minute cameo from Marko Marin.

John Terry cannot return from injury quickly enough to instil greater urgency.

Benítez's side enjoyed far more possession, but Fulham were too well-organised, too hard-working, too defiant.

Aaron Hughes was superb at centre-half, intercepting danger in the air and on the ground.

John Arne Riise and Steve Sidwell kept throwing themselves into blocks.

Dimitar Berbatov, a professor in the playground here, was the epitome of composure as the focal point of Fulham's 4-5-1 system.

He was so good at gliding away from markers.

Oriol Romeu was eventually cautioned for clinging to the Bulgarian like a frisky octopus.

Out wide, Damien Duff and Hugo Rodallega provided width and a willingness to track back to thwart Chelsea.

At the final whistle, following a brief bout of boos and chant of "We want our Chelsea back", the home supporters left quickly, contemplating the reality that Benítez has made their team harder to break down and harder to love.

Chelsea managed only three shots on target (from 17 attempts) to Fulham's four (from nine).

Some of the joie de vivre that characterised their early-season brio under Di Matteo has disappeared; Chelsea's players were as subdued as their supporters.

This supine affair brought derbies into disrepute; there was no passion from Chelsea, no attempt to drive up the decibel level.

It felt as if an uneasy truce had settled on the Bridge.

There was none of the anger spitting forth from the terraces that marked and scarred Benítez's first appearance last Sunday, none of the many banners and placards.

Clearly, the Chelsea supporters had decided to make their point soundlessly.

The Shed and the Matthew Harding Upper and Lower were largely restrained, restricting their show of dissent towards Benítez to some chants after 16 minutes, noting Di Matteo's old shirt number, and at the end.

The main f-word heard was "Fulham, Fulham".

The visiting fans were terrific, in fine form throughout, beginning by mocking the Bridge announcer's request for them to sit down by all standing up.

They then serenaded the hosts' interim first-team manager with "Rafa Benítez, he works where he wants".

The Fulham glee club then disagreed with a (fair) decision by Anthony Taylor with a chant of "We want Mark Clattenburg".

There was little of substantial footballing note to occupy the fans.

Benítez had tweaked the team, removing John Obi Mikel and inserting Romeu alongside Ramires in deep midfield.

In Mata's absence for an hour, Ryan Bertrand strived to provide some invention but he is not in the Spaniard's class.

Bertrand was more there to protect the defence.

Eden Hazard and Oscar failed to impose their undoubted talent.

Fernando Torres, wearing a demeanour of almost permanent vexation, chased the channels but never looked like scoring.

He has now gone 648 minutes without a goal in the Premier League.

On the half-hour mark, the Spaniard really should have scored following a quickfire move, the ball flowing from Branislav Ivanovic to Oscar to Cesar Azpilicueta.

Chelsea's tidy right-back drilled the ball in to Torres, who worked a yard of space, controlling it with his right foot before shooting left-footed goalwards.

This was it; the stuff of T-shirt legend.

A stunned stadium followed the ball's journey, a potentially historic voyage to rival anything achieved by Odysseus, Heyerdahl or Palin (Michael, not Sarah).

Torres' shot travelled between the legs of Hughes.

On it went, as Chelsea fans in the Shed stood in hope.

Then Mark Schwarzer dropped calmly to his knees and gathered the ball.

Hope died.

Chelsea supporters sighed as their Fulham counterparts chuckled.

The game continued to meander towards the interval.

Hazard fired a free-kick into a Fulham wall.

Azpilicueta lifted in a promising cross that Hughes did well to clear as Torres lurked.

Hazard then picked out Torres, who hoisted over a cross that Sascha Riether headed away.

Fulham were sitting deep, ­absorbing punches like an experienced boxer, occasionally breaking out in swift combinations.

One led to a chance for Rodallega, who drove his shot straight at Petr Cech.

The half then expired, brought to a welcome end without an additional second played.

The Bridge's guest of honour at the break was Charlie Cooke, the club's wonderfully inventive winger from the Sixties and Seventies.

Cooke was paraded in front of the Chelsea fans to mass calls of "bring him on" - and he's 70.

More urgency was detected in the second half.

Berbatov was harshly ruled offside when he had timed his run perfectly and was through one on one with Cech.

Giorgos Karagounis then switched play from right to left, ably picking out Riise, who wasted a glorious opportunity with a weak shot.

Karagounis and Riise then tested Cech.

Back came Chelsea but Fulham stood firm.

Riise blocked Hazard's shot.

Hughes threw himself into an athletic clearance of a Torres half-volley.

Hughes snuffed out a cross from Azpilicueta.

Sidwell risked injury ensuring a Mata shot did not travel any meaningful distance.

The sub Marin sought to sink the visitors but soon it was all over bar the brief shouting.

Chelsea: Cech, Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Luiz, Cole, Romeu, Ramires, Hazard (Marin 82), Oscar, Bertrand (Mata 63), Torres.
Subs: Turnbull, Mikel, Moses, Ferreira, Cahill.

Booked: Ivanovic, Romeu, Luiz.

Fulham: Schwarzer, Riether, Senderos, Hughes, Riise, Duff, Diarra (Baird 64), Sidwell, Karagounis (Frei 73), Rodallega (Petric 83), Berbatov.
Subs: Etheridge, Kelly, Kasami, Dejagah.

Att: 41,707

Referee: A Taylor (Cheshire).

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