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Chelsea 0-0 Fulham Premiership Matchday 14 1213 The Guardian

last updated Thursday 29th November 2012, 11:55 AM

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Dominic Fifield at The Guardian

Chelsea (0) 0 Fulham (0) 0

There was no thunderous booing for Rafael Benítez to endure prior to kick-off here, and his adopted side have actually clambered back into third in the Premier League, but there any suggestion progress has been made has to end.

All that swashbuckling attacking football that had carried Chelsea through the opening weeks of the campaign has fizzled out, doused by a run that has cast them adrift of the title race.

The jeers were delayed until the final whistle.

The interim first-team manager was pursued down the tunnel by the boomed expression of frustration, Roman Abramovich darting for the door at the back of his executive box high up in the West Stand without glancing back at those in blue with shoulders slumped as they trudged from the turf.

This is uncharted territory for the oligarch who had never previously seen his team fail to score in three successive matches.

The last time their league form had spluttered even with back-to-back goalless draws was back in September 2004.

Benítez might have hoped to emulate José Mourinho at this club, though presumably not quite like this.

Acceptance feels further away than ever.

Had César Azpilicueta's volley careered beyond Mark Schwarzer in the last minute of stoppage time it would merely have papered over the cracks of another limp display, with too many of the side inherited by Benítez cramped by crises of confidence.

Fernando Torres draws the focus, his goal drought in the league now extended to 10 hours and 49 minutes, but others are afflicted.

Eden Hazard is anxious and peripheral.

Juan Mata was leggy at the weekend and was offered only 27 minutes to impress.

Oscar is tidy and busy enough, but he is still adjusting to the game in this country with his better performances at his new club reserved for the Champions League.

All of which has left the Spaniard playing catch-up on and off the pitch.

Only Avram Grant of Abramovich's other managers had failed to win either of his first two league games, which casts Benítez uncomfortably into the Israeli's company.

"You cannot be satisfied when you haven't won these games," he admitted, reflecting on meetings with Manchester City and Fulham that have seen his charges muster, optimistically, three shots on target of any real spite.

"Two clean sheets is something positive, but I still want to score goals and be more offensive.

" Defensive improvement was necessary, with Roberto Di Matteo's side slipshod at the back, but tightening up has choked the sparkle from this side.

The search for balance goes on.

It will proceed amid grumbling discontent from the club's support, and with opponents sensing all too readily that all is not well with the European champions.

Fulham were content to contain for long periods here but they might still have registered a first win at Stamford Bridge since 1979, creating the game's most presentable opportunities on the counterattack and inspired by the contest's outstanding attacking talent.

Dimitar Berbatov can make football at this level appear ludicrously easy, that characteristic casual class retained.

Martin Jol described him as "unplayable" and that was no understatement.

Oriol Romeu was left to rugby tackle him in the second period, earning a caution in the process, having exhausted all other means to stifle his threat.

The Bulgarian oozed quality throughout.

He played his part in all of Fulham's forays upfield, even if it was the scuttling running of Kerim Frei in the latter stages that left Chelsea panicked.

The Turkey international should become key to Jol's side over the second half of the campaign and, if he does, this team can thrive.

The visitors were left to bemoan an over-eager assistant referee when Berbatov was free and in front of goal, and Petr Cech's sharp reflexes to turn aside John Arne Riise's rasped shot at the near post.

The Norwegian had played for Benítez's Liverpool in the 2005 European Cup final, but a first Fulham goal at his former manager's expense was asking too much.

Even without that indignity, Benítez feels weighed down by other concerns.

Di Matteo's name was chorused in the stands when the game was at its most aimless, the other cries of "We want our Chelsea back" bellowed into the night sky while Fulham's tickled support rejoiced in their hosts' discomfort.

The interim manager was asked whether five potential trophies might have become four now that the gap from the top stands at seven points.

"No, remember last season when Manchester City were ahead and it was going to be easy," he added.

"Then they needed to win their last game.

It's a long, long competition.

Why can't we [win the league]?" At present, his team are answering that question for him.

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