Lampard strike keeps Chelsea on Roman road

Fulham 1 - Chelsea 2
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The Independent Online

Roman Abramovich's gold is close to receiving its first repayment in silver. Chelsea reached a semi-final last season of course - the last four of the European Cup - but the fact that they are now led by Jose Mourinho, the man who won that competition, and his determination to take this one seriously, mean they are strong favourites to capture the League Cup.

Roman Abramovich's gold is close to receiving its first repayment in silver. Chelsea reached a semi-final last season of course ­ the last four of the European Cup ­ but the fact that they are now led by Jose Mourinho, the man who won that competition, and his determination to take this one seriously, mean they are strong favourites to capture the League Cup.

Fulham's Chris Coleman thinks they will probably win the other one as well, by the way, but in losing last night his side at least exorcised some of the demons of their crushing defeat to Chelsea just a couple of weeks ago. And their limp capitulation to Blackburn Rovers at the weekend. "They fought incredibly well with great commitment," said a clearly impressed Mourinho.

The geographical proximity of these two clubs meant there would always be extra spice to this quarter-final but the ferocity with which Fulham stuck to their task meant Chelsea were pushed all the way and depended on a late goalkeeping blunder by Edwin van der Sar for their victory. The shot, from the edge of the area, had come from Frank Lampard who Mourinho had started on the bench, for only the third time.

"We want to go all the way and win it," Lampard said afterwards. "A cup by the end of winter," he added in reference to February's final. He dedicated his goal to his grandfather, who died at the weekend. The funeral is on Monday and Lampard will fly out late for the Champions' League tie in Porto.

The midfielder's omission was a rare concession. This was far from a shadow side. But then what is at Chelsea? They began with their strongest forward combination and, if Didier Drogba disappointed and Arjen Robben, who was often double-marked, drifted then Damien Duff shone. It was his deflected goal which had opened the scoring.

But before then Duff had dragged Chelsea back into the contest after a committed start by Fulham who had heeded Coleman's harsh words following their recent displays. "We asked for a reaction and we got that," he said. "We were very unlucky in that we played the best team in the country and did not get what we deserved." Fulham were indeed unlucky in the manner of the goals. But Mourinho also pointed out that another strike, by substitute Eidur Gudjohnsen, had been wrongly disallowed for offside.

Coleman operated a more aggressive formation with Papa Bouba Diop prominent at the base of a midfield diamond and Brian McBride forceful in attack. Indeed three times inside the first five minutes they came close. Firstly McBride challenged Carvalho and the ball dropped to Mark Pembridge whose shot struck the defender. McBride should then have flicked in Andy Cole's cross before Cole headed weakly when picked out by Pembridge.

Chelsea tried to alter the tempo but it was only when Duff worked his way into the game that they threatened. He provided for Alexei Smertin, and then Drogba, but neither opportunity was taken. Robben had a drive parried away before, in the second half, Cole's header for Fulham grazed a post. They paid a heavy price when Duff immediately scored but, on 74 minutes, there was a dramatic equaliser as, with his first touch, substitute Elvis Hammond squared for McBride to ghost behind the defence and crash the ball into the net.

Mourinho had changed his strikeforce but it mattered little as Lampard's shot squirmed through van der Sar. "The club has not had big days for a few years," Mourinho said.

The first one, under him, is in touching distance.

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