UNDER-21S REPORT: FULHAM 3 CHELSEA 1
Chelsea's youngsters suffered a second straight league defeat as Fulham took the spoils from a tightly contested London derby.
The Blues, fielding a typically young and inexperienced side in the Premier League's competition for emerging talent, struggled to create chances against a home side that probably edged the balance of play.
A quiet first period was ignited by a volleyed opener from the home side, and although Billy Clifford's free-kick squirmed in to bring Chelsea level, Fulham were quickly back in front, and a third goal just after the break deflated any hopes Chelsea had of taking something from the Craven Cottage encounter.
The game came to life on six minutes when Fulham's Alex Smith crashed a bending free-kick onto Jamal Blackman's right-hand post, with even the huge goalkeeper unable to reach it. When the ball bounced back into play, Chelsea scrambled it clear.
A neat passing move involving both Billy and Conor Clifford and Lewis Baker almost saw striker Patrick Bamford played in, but he was blocked off by the experienced Philippe Senderos in the Fulham defence.
Halfway through the first half neither side had registered a shot on target, despite no shortage of tenacity and invention in midfield, but there would not be long to wait for a goal, and it came from the home side.
A long, hopeful ball was played diagonally into the Chelsea area where Charles Banya hit a first-time volley from a narrow angle to deceive and then lob Blackman, who would not have been expecting such an audacious attempt from the winger.
Moments later the same player could have added a second but lifted the ball over the bar after it had been cut back from the bye-line.
In response, Lewis Baker curled narrowly over just after the half-hour before Billy Clifford's free-kick had the Blues level.
The midfielder was fouled some 30 yards from goal, and dusted himself down to shoot, curling a decent effort on target. The goalkeeper, Csaba Somogyi, however, should have held it, but instead let it slip through his grip and into the bottom corner for an unlikely goal.
Fulham reacted quickly, and within a minute Blackman had been forced to save well from forward Marcello Trotta, with a driven cross had just evading the head of Ashkan Dejagah and Trotta shooting wide four minutes before the break.
There would still be time for an ever-increasingly likely goal to come for the Cottagers though, and it came in first-half stoppage time through an uncharacteristic error from Blackman, who was caught in possession by the livewire Kerim Frei, who was able to square for Trotta to slam the ball home from close range.
Dermot Drummy opted not to make changes at the interval, though two Fulham players, including Senderos, were withdrawn.
It was less than three minutes before Fulham doubled their advantage, as Trotta turned home an inswinging Frei free-kick from close range. Chelsea's marking to allow the striker the space to score must be questioned.
Shortly after Fulham's third goal Islam Feruz was introduced in place of Conor Clifford with the hope of livening up Chelsea's attack, while at the back Andreas Christensen replaced Alex Davey.
The unusually quiet Lucas Piazon struck the woodwork with a free-kick before the hour, and Lewis Baker would do the same with a lower effort that had crept under the Fulham wall. A comeback was looking unlikely, despite Chelsea throwing men forward and bringing on the attacking Jeremie Boga in a final throw of the dice.
Piazon showed his frustrations with 15 minutes to go when he was booked for kicking the ball away, before Boga's effort was deflected over the bar and the Brazilian himself shot off target. Patrick bamford did sting the palms of Somogyi before the end but by that time the game had gone.
It makes for a frustrating start to the weekend for the club, but with Norwich City coming to Stamford Bridge on Saturday afternoon, there is the opportunity for spirits to be quickly raised.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Jamal Blackman; Todd Kane (c), Alex Davey(sub Andreas Christensen 53), Nathan Ake, Aziz Deen-Conteh (sub Jeremie Boga 63); Billy Clifford, Conor Clifford (sub Islam Feruz 51), George Saville; Lewis Backer, Patrick Bamford, Lucas Piazon.
Unused subs: Mitchell Beeney, Adam Nditi.