More than a match for the Champions League semi-finalists, only the rub of the green denies Fulham a rare win over our neighbours from the Bridge.
Saturday saw the Whites lose their worst away record in the league tag, by Monday night we had a new one. The Kings of London when it comes to points gained from all capital derbies thus far. This may not be a vintage Chelsea team but in three games this season, two of them at their place, we have not been bested in regulation play. We've also had the maximum return off the Ha-Ha's, four points from Arsenal. And the way their season has nose-dived, can we dare to dream of turning Spurs over at the Lane on the last day of the season? Would be a lovely way to head off for the summer that's for sure.
Big shout out to the boys once again Monday night in our 50th game of the season. We looked fitter, played the better football, and certainly deserved a draw at the very least. Few referees would have see that tangle of legs, arms and elbows between Kelly, Kalou and Murphy as worthy of a penalty kick. Yet again, another contentious decision with a direct impact on the result goes the way of the 'bigger' team. While Clattenburg's positioning was good, he's never impressed me as a ref - get's far too much wrong.
We made two changes, Chelsea six. One telling factor for Fulham after the drubbing we gave Bolton, Damien's threat was stifled by Chelsea's well-organised back line. But what a mastertstoke from Martin to replace Kacaniklic - who has done nothing wrong to date - with Kerim Frei. He was the brightest star on the pitch and kept Ivanovic on his toes all game. I'm sure Chelsea were the happier to hear the final whistle as momentum was well and truly with Fulham for the last 20 minutes (now aint that refreshing to say?), but maybe we didn't quite work Cech enough to warrant all three points. Here, unlike at the Reebok, it was easier to see what a hard furrow to plough Clint had as the lone target man. Chelsea just had that extra dimension that dictated we couldn't be quite so gung ho from midfield, as Moussa and Diarra needed to be more circumspect. Might have been different had Sa come on earlier.
Having said that, Torres was anonymous. Neither Mata nor Drogba made an impact, and was Mark ever seriously troubled? In front of the keeper anyone who witenssed last night would question why the Hughes-Hangeland axis was ever broken up. And why has it taken so long for JAR to start showing his real worth? More displays like this, and will Jol gamble on our two full-backs for another season? Personally I hope not. Then again, if Grygera returns to fitness and is retained as utility cover, the board can invest on fresh blood in other areas.
Jol gave an interesting comment over the weekend, saying how far off he is re-fashioning the side as he would like. He was being somewhat disingenuous I felt with the journo when saying he's had to work primarily with the same bunch of near veterans that took us to the brink in Hamburg. While largely true, it also ignores the minimal return FFC have got from Kasami, Gecov, Sa and the somewhat expensive Senor Ruiz. The quote finished with Jol saying he had maybe six of the ideal eleven characters he wants to turn Fulham into a top seven side. This after a season Jol himself described pre-Christmas as the toughest job he's had in football. But on the basis of our eight home wins and the 32 goals scored at the Cottage so far, I sense things can only get better for the Dutchman from here on in.
Last week I forecast a season end tally of 49 points and a comfortable mid-table finish. Home wins over Wigan and Sunderland would give us that, regardless what we get from three final tough away games - Everton, Liverpool and Spurs. Not that these three teams are a class apart - far from it - they just happen to play at venues where Fulham wins are as rare as a pope with dreadlocks. I'm more than happy to have a rest from the Europa League for a season or two, breaking 50 points would be a bonus while a finish in the top half is enough. Especially after we waited so long for our first win. I think Jol has also signalled his intention now to chance a few experiments with team selection as we've passed the 40 point mark.
It all bodes well for real progress next term, and why I suggested it may be time to invest in a season ticket again. Let's not air the will-he-stay-or-will-he-go Dempsey debate right here. Clint will decide in the summer he says, for now he just wants to concentrate on his game. Precisely in keeping with his work ethic, dedication and single-minded application to continue improving. Dembele is another with his suitors. There will be movements in and out over the summer. One thing we do know about Jol, he has plenty of good international contacts, so scouting out replacements if the price is right should not be a problem. Both Pogrebnyak and Diarra are options FFC have on the table. How good might both be come next August after a full pre-season with the squad? You'd forecast a couple of pretty big names heading for Stevenage Road to freshen up the side and keep supporters happy, but along with our own emerging talent, I reckon the raw materials are there for a very exciting new-look Fulham team to trot down the tunnel this August (and back in regulation BLACK shorts please).
Time to draw breath before we face Wigan, so let's be hearing from you all as we prepare to ink in Fulham's end of term report, which I shall forward up to the Head at Motspur Park. Please use this platform to sing the praises of Fulham's midfield goal machine...I am running out of superlatives for the club's now all time record goal scorer in the Premier League. Your highs and lows of a season that took us to some European outposts and plumbed the depths of despair (all those awful awaydays) while lifting us to ecstatic highs - QPR last October, Arsenal and Newcastle this winter. Goal of the season so far? There's a few contenders for that.
By the way, as some of our international followers were asking, news from the council re our application for the Riverside development is due on Wednesday.
I am planning a print run compiling the blog archive + comments of the past two seasons with snazzy action pics and additional notes, tables, stats etc. for you all to purchase at a nominal price and cherish till your dying day. Make sure your contribution makes the final cut.