Petr Cech earned what could prove to be a valuable point for Chelsea in the race for Champions League qualification, saving Clint Dempsey’s last-minute penalty in a 0-0 draw with Fulham in the Premier League on Monday.
Dempsey was brought down by defender David Luiz with 60 seconds remaining in second-half injury time, but the United States midfielder’s low spot kick was palmed away by Cech in a dramatic finish at Craven Cottage.
Chelsea dominated a hard-fought west London derby and created most of the chances but would be thankful for the point.
The defending champions are now fifth, 12 points behind leaders Manchester United but more importantly two points behind fourth-place Tottenham, which occupy the final Champions League spot.
“I think now it’s too much,” Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti said of the gap to United. “The most important thing is to come in the top four and I think we will be able to do this.”
Fernando Torres, Chelsea’s £50-million signing from Liverpool on transfer deadline day, started on his own up front, with Didier Drogba relegated to the bench to accommodate the club’s record purchase.
But the Spain striker endured a second frustrating match for the Blues — he also fired a blank on debut last week against the club that sold him — and was substituted for Drogba in the 71st minute.
“I think he played well,” Ancelotti said of Torres. “His performance was much better than it was against Liverpool. Every striker wants to score but I don’t think he’s getting frustrated.”
‘Disappointing at the end’
Dempsey, Fulham’s top scorer in the league this season with nine goals, will rue his late miss but even the most ardent home fan will acknowledge Chelsea deserved to go away with something from the match.
“Chelsea asked questions of us in the second half but, given the circumstances, it was disappointing at the end,” said Fulham manager Mark Hughes, who believed Dempsey’s penalty should have been retaken because Drogba had encroached into the area as the American took his run-up.
Torres and Drogba, Chelsea’s leading scorer last season and number one striker for the past six years, failed to gel in the 1-0 loss to Liverpool and it was the Côte d’Ivoire striker who gave way eight days on.
“I don’t know if he [Drogba] was happy but it doesn’t matter — every game is important now and we have to rotate to keep him in good condition,” said Ancelotti, who added that he wanted to strengthen the team’s midfield by playing only one striker against in-form Fulham.
Torres fed off scraps early in the first half but sparked into life just before the break, wasting two decent chances because of his poor control.
‘A lot of opportunities’
Firstly, he ran on to a header by Brazil midfielder Ramires but could only stretch to toe-poke a weak shot at goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer. A minute later, Torres pounced on a fabulous long pass by fellow deadline-day signing Luiz, who made an assured first start aside from his late foul on Dempsey, but allowed the ball to squirm away from him as he took aim.
Torres, the world’s fourth most expensive player, headed over from a decent position following a searching cross by Ramires two minutes after the break.
At that stage, Chelsea were dominating midfield and looking like the only side capable of breaking the deadlock. An unmarked Luiz headed a corner over from eight yards.
Michael Essien and Ramires then went close for the visitors, while Cech saved from Dempsey in a rare attack at the other end before the late drama.
“We deserved to win this game,” said Ancelotti. “Our performance was good. We had a lot of opportunities but were not able to score.”
The draw pushed 12th-place Fulham four points clear of the relegation zone. — Sapa-AP