Dempsey strikes to keep Chelsea playing catch-up

Late Fulham leveller dents neighbours' top four ambitions

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The Independent Online

They might be in the Champions League semi-finals this season but with every mistake, and every point thrown away, Chelsea edge towards the catastrophe of failing to qualify for the competition next season.

Last night it was Clint Dempsey who scored the goal, eight minutes from time, that denied Chelsea two precious points and condemned them to sixth place with six matches of the season left. The dreadful truth for Roman Abramovich is that they do not look a side currently capable of generating the momentum for a late season drive up the table.

Dempsey's goal came late, and though the caretaker manager Roberto Di Matteo has still only lost once in his nine games in charge the mission was Champions league qualification and Newcastle United's form has proved their undoing.

Frank Lampard gave Chelsea the lead just before half-time from the penalty spot, a dubious decision by referee Mark Clattenburg, who gave it for a foul on Salomon Kalou by Stephen Kelly. But Martin Jol's team deserved a point at the very least in what was generally a low-quality game.

It was a messy old first half in the rain between two teams who both lacked a certain finesse when it came to attacking. In those early stages, Fulham were the livelier but the home side lost their way somewhat and the opposition found a foothold.

The penalty came in the 44th minute of the match and was keenly contested by the Fulham players. It appeared on a first viewing that Danny Murphy had been at fault, making contact when he lunged in an ill-advised fashion at Kalou. There is no doubting that Lampard knows where to put a penalty and he stroked this one to Mark Schwarzer's right side.

Chelsea were aggrieved not to get another penalty six minutes after half-time when Brede Hangeland appeared to push Lampard over when Ryan Bertrand's cross from the left came in.

Yet Di Matteo's side looked more shaky with every Fulham attack and from a late corner Dempsey appeared unmarked. John Terry complained in the melee that he was being fouled by the substitute Dickson Etuhu. Dempsey's header brushed off Gary Cahill's back and inside Cech's post.

Fulham had got what they deserved. As for Di Matteo and Chelsea, this season still promises two cup finals, but if by the end of May they are a Europa League team next season, it will be considered a terrible failure.