It needed a stunning strike from Hernan Crespo for Chelsea to win a gripping west London derby after Fulham had fought back from 2-0 down at Stamford Bridge this afternoon.
Jose Mourinho’s men appeared in cruise control when William Gallas and Frank Lampard handed them a two-goal cushion inside the first 25 minutes, but Fulham roared back with Brian McBride and Heidar Helguson stunning Chelsea either side of half time. The visitors then looked likely to claim a surprise first away win of the campaign as they went in search of a winner before Crespo break their hearts with a wonderful volley from Joe Cole’s deep cross.
There was drama at the death as Graham Poll astonishingly waved away Fulham penalty appeals after John Terry had clearly prevented Boa Morte from equalising by diving across his own goal-line and palming the Canadian international’s shot away with his hand. Whilst Chelsea had the better of the play overall, defeat was exceptionally harsh on Fulham, who showed terrific spirit to mount a stirring comeback when the game looked well beyond them.
Mourinho men’s looked set for a routine home win when Gallas guided home a header down from Robert Huth after Fulham were all at a sea from a Chelsea corner in the third minute. Lampard doubled the lead midway through the first half when his drive from distance took a wicked deflection off Sylvain Legwinski and left Mark Crossley with no chance. With Arjen Robben again tormenting Fulham down the left flank, it appeared a long afternoon was in prospect for the visitors.
But they rallied resiliently. McBride halved the deficit with a smart close range finish after Zat Knight had helped on a free-kick from Luis Boa Morte, although the visitors were indebted to Crossley for his terrific save from Shaun Wright-Phillips just before half-time. The second period was an incredibly open affair with substitute Eidur Gudjohnsen extending Crossley from long-range before McBride squandered a glorious opportunity to level matters after being played in by Boa Morte. The American’s shot lacked power and Petr Cech pulled off an excellent stop.
But Fulham did equalise from the penalty spot after a clumsy tackle from Joe Cole upended McBride in the box when the Fulham forward burst onto Liam Rosenior’s through ball. Helguson coolly converted the spot-kick, making light of any pressure by sending Cech the wrong way. That sparked a prolonged spell of away pressure with Helguson having a header blocked but Chelsea responded with a ferocious flurry of their own which saw Lampard have a goal chalked off for offside and a combination of Crossley and Rosenior thwarting Crespo from close range.
The Argentinian ultimately settled the derby with a moment of magic when his majestic volley from Cole’s cross finally broke Fulham’s brave resistance. Coleman was furious afterwards that the officials had failed to spot Terry’s obvious handball from Boa Morte’s drive – sarcastically noting ‘it was a great save – but could be proud of his players who fought to the end.
CHELSEA (4-3-3): Cech; Ferreira, Huth (Drogba 57), Terry, Gallas; Makelele, J. Cole, Lampard; Wright-Phillips (Gudjohnsen 45), Robben, Crespo (Geremi 76). Subs (not used): Cudicini, Geremi.
BOOKED: J. Cole.
GOALS: Gallas (3), Lampard (24), Crespo (74).
FULHAM (4-4-2): Crossley (Warner 71); Leacock, Rosenior, Knight, Goma; Christanval, Legwinski, Radzinski, Boa Morte; McBride, Helguson (John 69). Subs (not used): Bocanegra, Pearce, Elrich.
BOOKED: Christanval, Legwinski, John.
GOALS: McBride (29), Helguson (56).
REFEREE: Graham Poll (Hertfordshire).