Hernan Crespo’s second half header ended Chelsea’s miserable run of form as they recorded a first win in four matches by beating Fulham in the west London derby at Loftus Road this afternoon.
The Argentine forward powered home a header unchallenged from Wayne Bridge’s cross to reward Claudio Ranieri’s side for their increasing dominance. The Blues held on despite a late Fulham rally as Carlo Cudicini made a couple of late saves and will hope that their stuttering title challenge is now back on course.
Fulham began brightly but this was a familiar story for Chris Coleman’s side, who have now not triumphed over their local rivals since 1979. Louis Saha almost gave the home side the lead inside two minutes but he was thwarted by Cudicini, who also saved from Andy Melville in an encouraging Fulham opening. Damien Duff drew an excellent save from Edwin van der Sar, who was outstanding throughout in the home goal, but the Republic of Ireland winger was forced off after injuring his shoulder following a tackle from Sean Davis.
Joe Cole was the early replacement for Chelsea, who should have seized the lead in the twelve minute when Crespo burst in the box but sent a tame finish wide after Melville got back to put him under pressure. Cole became increasingly more influential as the first half went on, threading a nice ball through to Adrian Mutu, who thundered a shot against van der Sar’s legs from an acute angle.
Jon Harley then headed over his own crossbar against his old club after Steed Malbranque had failed to clear a Glen Johnson cross and John Terry almost crashed in a corner after Crespo’s clever flick on but van der Sar proved alert to the danger as Chelsea raised the tempo before half-time. Davis was forced off when he sustained a thigh injury moments before the break and Fulham ended the first period strongly with Cudicini somehow keeping out a firm Melville header on the stroke of half time.
Chelsea started the second half the stronger and should have gone in front within six minutes of the restart. Cole found some space in front of the Fulham defence and played a beautiful pass behind Melville for Crespo to run onto. The Argentinian cut the ball back inviting for Frank Lampard from eight yards, but the usually reliable midfielder miscued his shot allowing van der Sar to make a comfortable save at the near post.
There was no reprieve for Fulham when Chelsea opened them up down the left flank just after the hour mark. Bridge’s floated cross was emphatically guided home by Crespo, although there have to be questions asked about the Fulham defending as Melville allowed his man to rise unchallenged to head past van der Sar.
The visitors rode their luck in the closing stages. Luis Boa Morte surged through the Chelsea defence and beat Cudicini with a low left-footed drive – only for his finish to bounce back off the grounded goalkeeper’s boot into his arms. The Italian then did well to push away a powerful Malbranque 25-yarder and Moritz Volz drove fractionally over from a similar distance at the death as Fulham’s brave fight fell short.
FULHAM (4-3-3): van der Sar; Volz, Harley (Hayles 79), Melville, Knight; Davis (Djetou 37), Legwinski, Clark; Malbranque, Boa Morte, Saha. Subs (not used): Crossley, Goma, Sava.
BOOKED: Saha, Clark.
CHELSEA (4-3-3): Cudicini, Johnson, Desailly, Terry, Bridge, Gronkjaer, Makelele, Lampard, Duff (Cole 8), Crespo (Gallas 89), Mutu, Cole (Geremi 84). Subs (not used): Sullivan, Melchiot.
BOOKED: Cole, Johnson, Gronkjaer.
GOAL: Crespo (62).
REFEREE: Mike Riley (West Yorkshire).