Carlo Ancelotti and the Chelsea faithful may have been expecting a glut of goals but a win is a win and it still yields three points and keeps them ahead of Manchester United at the top of the table.

If form was anything like accurate this game should have been a regulation home win for Chelsea, but Fulham proved a stubborn obstacle.

The first moments of the game went for Chelsea but the killer touch seemed to be lacking for The Blues.

Clearly, Mark Hughes setup his team to frustrate their local rivals and without an away win in 23 games, The Cottagers were unlikely to spring any kind of surprise.

With two minutes gone Chelsea got their first of two quick corners first delivered by Michael Essien and then by Florent Malouda, but neither produced.

Fulham had to wait until the 12th minute until they had a decent shot on goal. John Obi Mikel unfairly challenged Dickson Etuhu and Danny Murphy fired in the direct free kick which didn’t threaten Petr Cech.

The game continued in this unfamiliar vein as Fulham extended their resistance to Chelsea’s superstars. The absence of Nicolas Anelka may have been the reason for Chelsea’s lack of attacking thrust.

After 22 mins Mikel tried to break the duck with a powerful shot from well outside the Fulham box, but Mark Schwarzer was on hand to deal with the shot

The breakthrough did come though, after 29 mins when Chelsea attacked from the left whilst Didier Drogba was on the ground. Play continued around him with Salomon Kalou, working the ball from the left, sent in a deep cross onto which Michael Essien met inside the six yard box with a powerful, driving header past the stricken Schwarzer. Drogba was removed from the field to receive treatment but the Ivorian did return to action.

Ancelotti’s men should have increased their lead after 41 mins when Malouda’s precise through ball was picked up by Kalou who continued his run but his right foot shot from within the six yard box was placed across the face of goal.

The second period started much more brightly for Fulham who focused their intent down the left wing and utilised Damien Duff against his former side.

Chelsea came back at them and a delicious run for Kalou floated past the Fulham defence and his delicate right foot shot under Schwarzer was cleared from the line by Aaron Hughes. An excellent display of awareness from the Ulsterman.

As the hour approached Mark Hughes took a positive step and brought off Dickson Etuhu and replaced him with striker Andrew Johnson in a hope his team could break their awful away record.

Fulham’s goal was living a charmed life as from a corner from the right, first Malouda’s drive was deflected away only to land at the feet of Ivanovic who volleyed the ball back into the danger zone only for Essien to miss from an incredible position.

As the game wore on the chance of a Fulham equaliser diminished as Chelsea continued to press and dictate the tempo of the match.

Ancelotti brought on fresh legs with 15 mins to go as Ramires replaced the tiring Malouda, whilst Hughes swapped Matthew Briggs with Zolton Gera, but neither substitution really threatened to change the complexion of the game.

The substitutions continued as Daniel Sturridge and Paulo Ferreira were brought on for Kalou and Bosingwa but Fulham were consigned to yet another defeat away from home.

Essien’s final contribution to the game seemed totally needless as a two footed lunge on Clint Dempsey warranted a red card and he was duly sent off by Martin Atkinson.

CHELSEA (4-5-1): Cech; Bosingwa (Ferreira 88), A. Cole, Ivanovic, Terry; Mikel, Essien, Zhirkov, Malouda (Ramires 77), Kalou (Sturridge 85); Drogba. Subs (not used): Turnbull, Bruma, McEachran, Kakuta.

BOOKED: Essien, A. Cole.

SENT OFF: Essien.

GOAL: Essien (30).

FULHAM (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer; Kelly, Briggs (Gera 79), Hughes, Hangeland; Etuhu (A. Johnson 61), Murphy, Davies, Duff; Dempsey; Dembele. Subs (not used): Stockdale, Pantsil, Dikgacoi, Greening, E. Johnson.

REFEREE: Martin Atkinson (West Yorkshire).