David Luiz played 90-plus minutes and the penalty given away wasn't even his fault!
A match against our West London neighborhoods, of course, was never going to be an easy one. But this was just madness.
When AVB announced that he was resting several players and giving some of the kids ago, I will admit that I did have a horrible flashback to our last couple of Carling Cup exits: playing the kids, everyone seeming to pick up injuries, playing with less than eleven men, extra time, etc etc. Basically: awful times. Surely our luck couldn't be that rotten for three seasons in a row?
But yes - it could. Injuries and precautionary measures for Petr Cech and Daniel Sturridge, both David Luiz and Romelu Lukaku having possible injury scares, Alex being sent off... it was a mess. Yet somehow, this time, we actually pulled off a win. And boy, was it deserved.
Josh McEachran was a star in the first half. It was exciting to see him finally on the pitch after being left out and not being subbed in at all during the season so far. He should have had a goal as well, running into the box after a pass from Malouda and shooting towards goal - only to be denied as Sturridge got a foot on it and was flagged for offside. The Chelsea website's match report claims Danny to be one of our best players, but I thought he seemed to be having an off night. If possible, he seemed to be trying a bit too hard (as we were watching, my friend asked me if Studge was "nervous or trying too hard?" and I said the latter, but you decide) and it was putting his touch and decision-making off. Before the halftime break, Sturridge picked up a knock and made way for Frank Lampard.
Petr Cech was playing well, too. Then, like a scene from a horror film, Fulham's Sa clattered right into the big man, sending both sprawling to the ground and sending Chelsea fans into mad hysterics as we worried that our keeper would be out injured yet again. He fortunately continued for the remaining few minutes of the half, but we all drew in our breath uneasily when we saw Ross Turnbull emerge for the second half.
An early controversial red card for Alex, who was excellent during the first half, marred the start to the second half. The Brazilian looked to have gotten the ball, but a penalty was given as well as a straight red. As a result, the excellent McEachran was sacrificed to reboost our defense and introduce our third substitute, John Terry. As a result of these unforeseen subs, Drogba's comeback never managed to happen.
So almost immediately after coming on the pitch, Turnbull had to face a penalty kick. Fortunately, Kasami hit the crossbar and Ross managed to keep hold of the ball before anyone could smash in the rebound. And Stamford Bridge exhaled a sigh of relief. Even down to ten men, the Blues seemed the more threatening side, and we really should have scored. Fulham had their chances as well, one in particular forcing an absolutely brilliant save from Turnbull, who reacted quickly to palm a close-range Fulham shot over the bar.
Oriol Romeu and David Luiz were standout performers throughout the entire match. David Luiz, despite being out for so long with injury and possibly still lacking full match fitness, was his beastly self and steamed forward at any opportunity. Romelu Lukaka was an absolute workhorse as well, and I would love to have seen him bag a goal. There are absolutely promising signs from our new signings.
Unfortunately, no one could get the ball in the back of the net during normal or extra time, so then came one of the things Chelsea fans dread the most - penalty kicks. It was off to a horrendous start when Lampard missed - have I mentioned how I cringe when he steps up for a pen? My spirits sank. Our central defenders both scored their kicks, as did former Blue Steve Sidwell for Fulham, but Turnbull earned more plaudits when he saved the third Fulham kick, evening the score again. Kalou and Baird scored the next two, then Malouda's cheeky kick went in the back of the net. Fulham's Bryan Ruiz managed to hit the crossbar, have the ball bounce on the line and back up - not counting as a goal. We won a penalty shoot-out!
Just to reiterate again: We won a penalty shoot-out! AVB particularly was excited on the sideline - these boys had fought so hard, through tired legs, Schwarzer having an excellent match, and unexpected squad changes. We're moving on to the next round and await the draw on Saturday.