It was a sight that summed up Avram Grant's plight. Chelsea's manager stood on the touchline in the final minutes, desperatelytrying to shout instructions to his team, only to have his words drowned out by the loudest chant of the afternoon from a previously subdued Stamford Bridge crowd. The sound of "Jose Mourinho, Jose Mourinho" echoed around the ground.
If Grant narrowly avoided the ignominy of losing his first home match after succeeding Mourinho, it was hard to imagine a more calamitous first day in front of his own supporters. John Terry, his captain, suffered a fractured cheekbone which is likely to keep him out for several weeks – he will have an operation today and looks certain to miss England's crucial Euro 2008 qualifying matches against Russia and Estonia next month – while Didier Drogba, his leadingstriker, was shown the red card for two bookable offences.
In the end Grant must have felt grateful to emerge with a point, even if the boos at the final whistle made it seem like a loss. Mourinho had been unbeaten in all his 60 home Premier League matches in charge of Chelsea, and it would have been a huge blow to his successor's credibility if he had started his Stamford Bridge career with a defeat.
Having lost away to Manchester United in Grant's first game in charge, Chelsea have now failed to score in their last four Premier League games, which have yielded just two points. A decent result away to Valencia in the Champions' League this week is now crucial, though Grant spoke with measured calm after the match. He insisted he was not overly concerned by the ground his team had lost in the title race, and said that nothing had surprised him in his new job.
"First we need to score, then we need to win," Grant said. "We created enough chances to win but did not score. There are things we can improve."
Putting the ball in the back of the net will be the first priority. Chelsea dominated this match for long periods and should have been leading comfortably when the game changed with Drogba's dismissal after 73 minutes. The Ivorian, handed the captain's armband after Terry failed to reappear for the second half following a collision with Clint Dempsey, had been needlessly booked for dissent in the first half and was shown his second yellow card when his raised boot caught Chris Baird in the face. Grant refused to criticise Drogbaafterwards, saying he would wait to see television replays before passing judgement.
Grant had taken off his other striker eight minutes into the second half. Mourinho's unhappiness with having Andriy Shevchenko foisted on him by Roman Abramovich was said to be a major cause of his fall-out with the club's owner, and on this evidence you could see the former manager's pointof view.
Shevchenko looked badly out of sorts, not quite knowing whether to play the Frank Lampard role, breaking from midfield, or to forage alongside Drogba. Two woefully inadequate free-kicks by the Ukrainian summed up his frustrations, and it was no surprise whenhe was taken off. "He was not at his best," Grant admittedafterwards.
Chelsea's play was particularlydisjointed in the opening 20 minutes, but Salomon Kalou and Joe Cole became increasingly influential down the flanks and the home side had more than enough chances to win. Kalou was at the centre of the best Chelsea attack of the first half, breaking down the left after good work by Drogba and Shevchenko, only for the latter to end the move by shooting wide of a post.
Kalou wasted an even better opportunity in the opening minutes of the second half. Joe Cole, released by Drogba's fine pass, delivered a perfect cross to the near post, only for Kalou to miss the ball completely. Kalou soon returned the compliment with a well-timed through-ball, but Joe Cole shot just wide of a post.
Fulham defended with spirit. Aaron Hughes and Carlos Bocanegra were rocks at the centre of defence, while Alexey Smertin and Steven Davis gave as good as they got in the centre of midfield.
Dempsey had the best early chance, heading wide from Smertin's cross, but Sanchez's men played a containing game until Drogba's departure gave them the incentive to push forward in the closing stages.
After 85 minutes Paul Konchesky, clean through, saw his shot saved by Petr Cech's feet, while Diomansy Kamara had another excellent opportunity four minutes later. Despite holding off Claude Makelele's challenge, the Senegalese striker screwed his shot just wide of a post.
"I said before the match that we'd win 1-0 and we should have done," Lawrie Sanchez, the Fulham manager, said afterwards. Sanchez believes his men are in a false position near the foot of the table, poor refereeing decisions having cost them vital points, and on this showing they have the all-round strengths to live with most opponents. As for Chelsea, there can be only one verdict: must do better.Reuse content