Premier League - Fulham hold Chelsea at Bridge
It was a game of two halves with the opening 45 minutes a touch sluggish from both sides, with the second period the kind of humdinger that befits a West London derby.
The result, Chelsea’s third 1-1 draw on the trot, sees the Blues stay fourth and in danger of being caught by Arsenal once they play their game in hand, while the Whites remain 13th.
Martin Jol’s selection raised eyebrows, with Bobby Zamora, Andy Johnson and Damien Duff left out of the squad following the manager's pre-match comments implying a lack of team-work had been their problem this season.
Zamora’s omission was particularly notable, given his reported fall-out with the Dutchman and the lack of any recognised forward on the substitutes’ bench: Portuguese rookie Orlando Sa led the line, and struggled throughout.
Despite the strange selection, Fulham did well as - while Chelsea dominated possession - the visitors proved difficult to break down while creating almost as many clear chances as the hosts.
Indeed, the first opportunity dropped to Dempsey nine minutes in, the American driving a wickedly moving shot from 25 yards or so, Petr Cech doing well to palm behind for a corner.
On the quarter-hour Sa headed over from the edge of the six-yard box, doing well to escape the attentions of Jose Bosingwa to meet Stephen Kelly’s excellent cross but not doing so well with his finish.
Seconds later Chelsea almost grabbed a lead as Fernando Torres - handed what is becoming an increasingly rare start at the expense of Didier Drogba - volleyed straight at Stockdale after a wonderful chest-and-volley combination on the turn, his only real show of quality in the first half.
Chelsea had awoken from their early slumber and soon afterwards Daniel Sturridge flashed a shot just wide after Torres found him on the edge of the box following some hesitant defending from Brede Hangeland.
Fulham were having to soak up some heavy pressure but then they had a good chance, fashioned by Moussa Dembele from nothing as he showed his silky skills to work space on the edge of the box before firing across the helpless Cech but just wide of the far post.
Down the other end Kelly had to be alert to flick the ball away from danger after one of a succession of good Bosingwa crosses, which - on 31 minutes - was the final genuine point of interest in a half that drifted aimlessly into the break, following a pattern of failed Chelsea attacks and occasional Fulham counters, one of which saw Dempsey head straight at Cech.
It did not take Chelsea long to break the deadlock after the break though - a minute after the restart Torres did well to hold the ball up just inside the box, fending off Philippe Senderos and laying it up for Mata who unleashed a first-time snap-shot that caught everyone by surprise, dipping across Stockdale and into the bottom right.
Fulham’s response was as good as they have shown all season, attacking Chelsea directly and with pace from the moment they went behind.
They won a succession of corners, one of which saw Hangeland head wide, but their equaliser came from open play and thanks to a surging, David Luiz-style run from Senderos.
The Swiss defender surged through the midfield before feeding Dembele, who failed to get his shot away: the loose ball dropped to Senderos, who had continued his run and released Bryan Ruiz wide right with a clever header. One-on-one with Ashley Cole, the Costa Rican sold the England left-back with a superb shimmy before drilling a wicked low cross that Dempsey finished from close range.
It was end-to-end stuff now as Dempsey curled a shot at Cech while Torres went down easily in the box under the challenge of the American.
Chelsea opted to widen their play by introducing Florent Malouda and it almost paid off as they stretched the Whites, Sturridge forcing a smart stop from Stockdale with a rising drive and - from that corner - Malouda almost backheeling John Terry’s header in, denied on the line by another fantastic stop by the stand-in Fulham keeper.
Fulham were still threatening though, Dempsey and Kerim Frei quick and dangerous on the break, but they lacked a proper forward outlet with Sa the clear weak link, out of his depth and lacking the physical attributes and movement to play as a target man.
Chelsea, meanwhile, should have gone 2-1 up when, with 14 minutes left, newly-introduced sub Drogba sprung the offside trap but fired straight at Stockdale from an angle.
Raul Meireles sent a trademark curler just wide and in the latter stages the hosts looked by far the more likely as Fulham got men behind the ball in an attempt to cling on to a point.
After another poor decision when he tried to run it through the middle when Fulham had wide options on the break, Sa was finally hauled off but with no orthodox strikers on the bench Jol was limited to playing Pajtim Kasami through the middle.
A couple of speculative breaks aside, Kasami saw little of the ball as Chelsea pounded their local rivals but to no avail.
Stockdale was the difference, pulling out fine stops from a Meireles header, a Drogba header and a long shot from the Ivory Coast man.
Deep in injury time Kasami almost snatched a winner as a quick free-kick saw Dempsey put him in, but he fired straight at Cech.
And, right at the death, Stockdale showed his value again with a flying save to tip a Drogba free-kick over the bar as Fulham bounced back from their thrashing to Manchester United.