Captain John Terry scored twice as Chelsea leapfrogged London rivals Arsenal to go third in the Premier League with a 3-0 derby victory over Fulham at Craven Cottage.
David Luiz powered a 35-yard shot into the top corner after 30 minutes and returning skipper Terry headed in a second before half-time to put Chelsea on course for a first Premier League away win in five attempts.
Fulham felt aggrieved when Bryan Ruiz was adjudged to have dived over Terry’s leg in the penalty area before the break and the visitors’ skipper headed in his second of the game midway through the second half as Chelsea climbed a point above Arsenal and three clear of Tottenham.
There was an intensity about the Cottagers, who lost for just the second time in eight Premier League matches, but the decisive moments went Chelsea’s way.
Rafael Benitez spoke of the need for mental toughness in the closing weeks of the season and Terry has it in abundance, despite a trying season punctuated by injury which has seen him slip from first name on the team sheet to become a more peripheral figure.
Benitez’s side are now in pole position for the third automatic Champions League qualifying place with six games remaining – including matches with Manchester United, Spurs and Everton and Sunday’s trip to the Spaniard’s former club Liverpool.
Frank Lampard made his 600th Chelsea appearance in a side showing four changes following Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final loss to Manchester City.
Terry – like Lampard an unused substitute at Wembley – Victor Moses and Fernando Torres were also brought in for Chelsea’s 60th game of the season as last season’s Champions League winners stepped up their bid for a place in next season’s tournament.
The Cottagers made two changes from the draw at Aston Villa, with John Arne Riise and Mladen Petric included as the hosts went in search of a second Premier League win over Chelsea at the 24th attempt.
Sascha Riether’s cross in behind Terry and Luiz gave the hosts an opportunity for a fast start, but Ruiz could only divert the ball over from close range.
Lampard’s first chance to score for the first time in a month – since his 200th Blues goal came against his former club West Ham – came in the ninth minute after Brede Hangeland sliced an attempted clearance.
Torres had the presence of mind to head the ball behind him and Lampard hooked the ball towards goal, but Mark Schwarzer saved comfortably.
It was part of a sustained period of possession for Chelsea, but then it was Fulham’s turn to apply pressure.
After Branislav Ivanovic was booked for a two-footed foul on Petric, Dimitar Berbatov had a shot deflected wide, Giorgios Karagounis fired narrowly over and Riise fluffed a chance.
The visitors then took the lead against the run of play when Luiz found himself in space and unleashed an unstoppable long-range strike which soared into the top corner.
It was the Brazil defender’s fifth goal of the season as he celebrated his 100th appearance at the ground where he made his full debut for the Blues.
Fulham had further opportunities, with Berbatov and Urby Emanuelson at the heart of much of their good work.
The Bulgarian could not quite get on the end of Emanuelson’s pass before the Dutchman danced round the Chelsea defence and his deflected shot was turned around the post by Petr Cech.
Berbatov shot wide before another long-range Chelsea shot had Fulham in trouble.
This time Schwarzer could only parry Lampard’s swerving free-kick from 40 yards and from the resulting corner the Fulham goalkeeper was beaten for a second time.
Chelsea played the set-piece short and Juan Mata crossed to the back post where Terry headed in.
Terry was relieved to see referee Mike Dean rule in his favour as Ruiz was booked for diving when going by the Blues defender in the box.
Fulham boss Martin Jol spoke to Dean as the sides left the field at the interval, with his side unfortunate to be trailing.
Fulham resumed with purpose, but their luck deserted them when Giorgos Karagounis whipped in a corner and Philippe Senderos saw his header blocked at the back post by team-mate Petric.
Moments later, after Schwarzer had turned a Victor Moses shot around the post, Chelsea had their third.
Mata’s corner was met by Torres, whose powerful header was helped in by Terry ahead of the covering defender.
Terry pointed to Torres in celebration, but it was his goal and his night as Chelsea triumphed.
Fulham: Schwarzer, Riise (Rodallega, 67), Senderos, Hangeland, Riether, Karagounis (Frimpong, 76), Emanuelson, Enoh, Berbatov, Petric (Frei, 82), Ruiz
Subs not used: Etheridge, Richardson, Hughes, Manolev
Booked: Senderos, Ruiz
Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, David Luiz, Terry, Bertrand, Ramires (Mikel, 75), Lampard, Mata (Ba, 80), Moses, Hazard (Oscar, 69), Torres
Subs not used: Turnbull, Azpilicueta, Benayoun, Ake
Goals: Luiz 30, Terry 43, 71
Referee: Mike Dean