Will we ever get close to ending that hoodoo against Chelsea, at Stamford Bridge, a hoodoo that has lasted some thirty-two years?
With 6,000 Fulham packed into the Shed End, Fulham went so close to gaining that elusive win and this morning questions will still be asked as to whether Bryan Ruiz`s penalty, in the shoot-out, did cross the line or not.
Martin Jol, despite giving the indication that this was a trophy Fulham could win, chose to play a starting eleven that was packed with youth and more than the odd defender or two. If the game plan was to frustrate Chelsea and hope for a goal on a quick counter-attack it was a plan that was always going to be fraught with danger.
Amongst the many changes were places for Frei, Kasami, Grygera , Sa and Briggs with both the ex-Chelsea players, Duff and Sidwell missing out. Zamora, nursing an ankle knock was on the bench.
Our opponents, utilizing their large squad, also bloodied several youngsters whilst also giving run-outs to those who hadn`t featured much this season. In all Fulham made eight changes to the side that drew with Manchester City whilst Chelsea made nine changes to the side that lost at Old Trafford.
Chelsea`s bench though had a remarkably strong look to it with Lampard, Terry, Drogba, Bosingwa, Mata and Mikel all on hnd if called for.
The game itself was end-to-end stuff, both sides trying to get that vital breakthrough but neither side managing to. Chelsea probably shaded it but Fulham always, through the industry and skills of Frei, looked as if they could capitalize on the defensive lapses of David Luiz. Sadly for Fulham, Luiz`s fellow Brazilian centre back, Alex, always seemed to be there when a clear-cut chance was about to materialize.
But Alex`s part in the derby match was to end prematurely in the early stages of the second half when the Brazilian received a straight red-card for a trip on Frei, in the penalty area. With Cech having been replaced by Turnbull at half time, after a collision with Sa, Kasami strode forward and saw his spot-kick strike the crossbar. A golden chance to take the lead had been lost.
Faced with ten men, Fulham started to pressurize Chelsea and Frei was causing Terry all sorts of problems but all credit to Chelsea who, despite being a man down, worked their socks off and could have snatched a victory in normal time if it were not for the excellence of Mark Schwarzer.
Faced with extra-time, the pace slightly relented as tiredness gripped several players. Sidwell, on as a substitute, almost pulled the tie out of the bag with a long range effort. But, after two hours of entertainment it was all down to the lottery of the penalty shoot-out.
Even then, with Frank Lampard missing Chelsea`s first, our hopes of progressing were set to be dealt a blow when Turnbull saved a spot kick from Dembele. As Ruiz stepped forward, knowing he had to score to force the shoot-out into sudden death, his kick hit the underside of the bar, bounced onto (or over) the line, cannoned up to hit the bar a second time before coming out.
Despite the protestations Chris Foy was adamant that the ball hadn`t crossed the line and it was left to the 6,000 to leave the home support celebrating and head for home.
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