Chelsea had not failed to score in two consecutive league home games since September 2007, and Benitez’s side left the field to a chorus of boos after a second successive stalemate.
Fulham have now not won in 12 trips to Stamford Bridge, but it was the hosts who were left frustrated after not managing to muster an elusive goal in what was a disappointing display which sees them lose further ground on the leaders.
Benitez, whose last two games in the Premier League had not produced a goal, dropped Juan Mata and John Obi Mikel to the bench and handed rare starting berths to Oriol Romeu and Ryan Bertrand; meanwhile, Fulham recalled Damien Duff, Hugo Rodallega and Mahamadou Diarra.
It was a very different reception for the Spaniard compared to his first match in charge against Manchester City at the weekend with no apparent booing, and he even whistled to himself as he took to his seat.
It was a fairly subdued opening all round with a lethargic tempo, and Ramires picked out the top of the stand behind the Fulham goal from the edge of the penalty area with the first shot of the match.
Right on cue in the 16th minute, the home fans rose for the inevitable chant ‘There’s only one Di Matteo’, with club owner Roman Abramovich present at the match in what was the first real showing of unrest.
Torres had his first effort on goal from just inside the Fulham penalty area in the 26th minute, but he could only scuff a tame shot straight at a grateful Mark Schwarzer with a poor attempt.
There were murmurs of discontent as the half-time whistle sounded, with the referee playing no stoppage time having clearly seen enough himself; but surprisingly neither manager made a change at the break and Mata remained on the bench.
Oscar and Eden Hazard continued to combine to good effect, but the Brazilian could not quite latch on to a through ball as he raced in behind the Fulham back four, and another promising opening petered out.
The visitors carved out their first clear-cut opportunity just before the hour mark as a fine raking diagonal ball from Giorgos Karagounis picked out John Arne Riise, who sprinted in behind David Luiz down the left, but his first touch let him down horribly and Petr Cech was relieved to gather the loose ball.
Bertrand was the man to make way in the 64th minute as Mata was introduced, to the delight of the Chelsea fans. Martin Jol’s response was to immediately bring on Chris Baird at the expense of Diarra.
Mata created a real opportunity for his side within seconds of coming on as he whipped over a devilish delivery from the right to leave Branislav Ivanovic with a free header inside the Fulham box, but the Serb could only get a faint touch on the ball.
Riise stung the hands of Cech as he drove a fierce left-footed shot from the edge of the box, as Fulham began to look dangerous on the break with the home fans growing increasingly impatient with their side.
Torres could have made his mark late on as he took down a dinked pass from Hazard and volleyed beyond the out-of-position Schwarzer, but Aaron Hughes was on hand to clear from inside the six-yard box with the shot lacking in power.
Both sides have now mustered just seven points from their last seven games, but it was the hosts who were booed off with Benitez again the primary object of their frustration.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Dimitar Berbatov – Fulham: In what was a match distinctly lacking in quality in the final third, Berbatov shined as he dropped deep to give his side respite and linked the play to good effect. A nuisance for Chelsea all evening.
CHELSEA: Cech 6; Azpilicueta 6, Ivanovic 6, Luiz 6, Cole 6; Romeu 7, Ramires 7; Hazard 6, Oscar 6, Bertrand 6; Torres 5. Subs: Marin 6, Mata 6.
FULHAM: Schwarzer 6; Riether 7, Senderos 6, Hughes 7, Riise 7; Duff 7, Sidwell 7, Diarra 7, Karagounis 6, Rodallega 7; Berbatov 8. Subs: Baird 6, Petric 6, Frei 6.
- Sports & Recreation