Damien Duff grabbed the winner as Chelsea saw off Fulham in a lively west London derby to maintain their strangehold on second place in the Premiership.
The Irish international reacted quickest to finish from close range after Edwin van der Sar had pushed out a powerful shot from Frank Lampard. Eidur Gudjohnsen had curled Chelsea in front after just six minutes with a magnificent strike from fully 25 yards out and Chris Coleman must have been fearing the worse. But Fulham showed stomach for the fight after surviving another scare when a fierce Gudjohnsen effort whistled over the bar – and equalised when Mark Pembridge’s deflected off the wall and over a helpless Marco Ambrosio in the Chelsea goal.
Duff and Jesper Gronkjaer took it in turns to torture Fulham’s full backs as Chelsea grabbed the initiative in the latter stages of the second period. van der Sar was almost caught out by a combination of a fierce win and Geremi’s looping cross that almost dropped into the net, but the Dutchman backpeddled to turn it over the bar. Claudio Ranieri, playing to type, mystifying replaced Gronkjaer with Scott Parker at the interval but Duff continued to test Fulham down the left, producing one lungbusting run that left Volz trailing in his week. Only a timely intervention from Ian Pearce prevented Hernan Crespo from making it 3-1.
van der Sar was furious at not getting enough cover from his defensive midfielders, barking out his disapproval to Sylvain Legwinski after Duff was afforded far too much to locate Lampard, who again fired over the bar from a promising position. Chelsea might have been in the ascendancy but the longer the game went on their slender lead felt more precarious. Parker had to scramble a Pearce header away from underneath his own crossbar after the centre back had wriggled free to reach Davis’ deep free-kick and Collins John almost marked his Fulham debut with a sensational equaliser from 25 yards but his ambitious effort flew over.
CHELSEA (4-4-2): Ambrosio; Gallas, Bridge, Desailly, Terry; Gronkjaer (Parker 45), Geremi, Lampard, Duff (Cole 70); Crespo, Gudjohnsen. Subs (not used): Sullivan, Huth, Mutu.
GOAL: Gudjohsen (6), Duff (30).
FULHAM (4-3-3): van der Sar; Volz, Bocanegra, Knight, Pearce; Legwinski, Pembridge (John 62), Davis; Malbranque, Boa Morte, Hayles (McBride 77). Subs (not used): Beasant, Goma, Djetou.
BOOKED: Legwinski, Boa Morte.
GOAL: Pembridge (18).
REFEREE: Neale Barry (North Lincolnshire).