Fulham deny Benitez a first Chelsea goal

by Ian Winrow, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Nov 29 2012 11:25 AM | Updated as of Nov 29 2012 07:25 PM

LONDON - Rafael Benitez was still searching for his first win since his controversial appointment as Chelsea manager after they were held to a goalless draw by Fulham in a west London derby at Stamford Bridge.

Wednesday saw Benitez largely spared the hostile reception he received during his first game in charge against Premier League champions Manchester City -- also a scoreless draw -- four days previously.

But this was hardly a performance to win over those supporters who opposed the Spaniard's appointment as Roberto di Matteo's successor.

The final whistle was greeted with boos from the home supporters and with Chelsea now without a win in six Premier League games, Benitez must find a way to help the European champions recover their cutting edge if he is to revive the club's domestic title ambitions.

Fernando Torres suffered another frustrating night that was summed up when a second-half volley was cleared off the line and the Spaniard has now gone almost 11 hours without a league goal.

Fulham -- who have also now gone six league games without a win -- could claim to have created the better chances while Dimitar Berbatov was the game's outstanding player.

Benitez made two changes from the side the drew with Manchester City with Oriol Romeu coming in for John Obi Mikel and, more significantly, Ryan Bertrand replacing Juan Mata as one of three offensive midfielders.

The inclusion of Bertrand -- best known as a left-back -- followed on from the manager's pre-match admission his first priority was to strengthen the team's defensive foundations.

Unfortunately for the former Liverpool manager, Chelsea were much less convincing going forward.

An uninspiring start to the game did little to rouse a subdued home crowd who saved their loudest voices for the chant of "only one di Matteo" in the 16th minute, a tribute to Benitez's predecessor who wore the number 16 shirt during his playing days at the club.

Chelsea's attacking play was ponderous and it was telling their best chance of the opening half came when Branislav Ivanovic broke speedily from defence and the ball found its way to Cesar Azpilicueta on the right via Eden Hazard.

The right back's low cross found Torres who turned and shot but his effort lacked venom and was directed straight at Mark Schwarzer.

There was a smattering of boos from the home supporters at half-time and it was clear Chelsea would have to move through the gears if they were to spark life into the game.

They started the second period with more conviction although their best work was done on the fringes of the Fulham penalty area.

Instead it was the visitors who created the better chances with Berbatov at the heart of Fulham's best moves.

The Bulgarian was narrowly adjudged to be offside when he was sent clear on Petr Cech's goal.

But an even clearer opportunity came Fulham's way moments later when Giorgios Karagounis picked out John Arne Riise run beyond Luiz only for the left-back to direct a tame shot straight at the Chelsea keeper from inside the area.

Cech was the busier of the keepers, saving well from Karagounis, Chris Baird and a much better effort from Riise as Berbatov continued to out-wit the Chelsea centre-backs and holding midfielders.

Benitez introduced Mata for Bertrand in a bid to inject more creativity into the Chelsea attack but apart from a half-chance to Ramires and a mis-directed header from Ivanovic, they continued to offer only a limited threat.

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