| Fulham’s Steed Malbranque (right) in a tussle with Chelsea’s Robert Huth during their Premier League match at Loftus Park, London, Monday. (AFP )
London: Chelsea, gunning for second place in the English Premier League, fell short when they were held 0-0 away to London rivals Fulham at Loftus Road on Monday.
A victory by two goals would have lifted Chelsea into second place on 15 points, two behind leaders Arsenal and equal on points with Liverpool.
Instead, they are four behind Arsenal in third place on 13 points, above another London side, Tottenham Hotspur on goal difference. Leeds United are fifth on 12 points.
There were numerous half chances at both ends but nothing clear cut as Fulham, who kept a clean sheet for the third straight game, climbed above Middlesbrough and Manchester United into sixth place on goal difference. All three have 11 points.
There was plenty of end-to-end action but few moves of any real quality and even fewer attempts on goal.
Fulham played early balls to their striking partnership of Steve Marlet and Barry Hayles and Marlet gave German defender Robert Huth, making his first league start in place of the injured Marcel Desailly, a torrid time.
Chelsea’s biggest threat came from Dutch international winger Boudewijn Zenden on the left.
He had one shot gathered at the second attempt by Fulham goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar and one cross whipped across the penalty box deserved better from his strikers, compatriot Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Gianfranco Zola.
The best chance of the first half came from the right boot of Japanese World Cup midfielder Junichi Inamoto in the 42nd minute. His shot, obscured by defenders, was spotted at the last moment by Chelsea keeper Carlo Cudicini, who got down well to block its goalward path with one arm.
The second half was much the same. Hasselbaink twice got in front of the Fulham defence but neither of his strikes bothered Van de Sar and Marlet, Fulham’s most expensive player, was again impressive.
Fulham, who were looking to record their first home league win over their neighbours since April 1977, brought on Luis Boa Morte for Inamoto in an effort to grab all three points.
It was a Chelsea substitute, Jesper Gronkjaer, who had the next chance to open the scoring, breaking clear of the home defence in the 72nd minute before unleashing a shot which Van der Sar blocked with his legs.
Huth nearly broke the deadlock with eight minutes to go, but his low drive from outside the box was pushed away by Van der Sar.
“I think we played a hard game, we played to our maximum. I am very happy tonight, but I would like to win one time against Chelsea,” said Fulham manager Jean Tigana.
The Frenchman said his players were tired after their Uefa Cup heroics last Thursday when they won 1-0 away at Hajduk Split.