No Aleksandar Mitrovic, no problem. Fulham followers fretted before the derby that the absence of their suspended Serbian talisman could cost the club their best chance of beating Chelsea since Luis Boa Morte’s moment of magic in 2006. Instead, their mercurial number nine watched from the stands as his understudy Carlos Vinicius picked the perfect moment to score his first Fulham goal and seal a famous victory – piling more pressure on poor Graham Potter in the process.
Fulham’s finest run of top flight wins since 1966 have lifted Marco Silva’s side into the top six. Four consecutive victories since the World Cup have the Craven Cottage regulars singing about Europe rather than worrying about the bottom three – a welcome change after the Whites’ cursed Premier League campaigns over the past four years. Plenty predicted that Fulham would struggle this season, but this team are cut from a different cloth. They have relished the chance to transfer their stylish Championship success to English football’s top table and tonight were ruthless enough to punish Joao Felix for a wild lunge at Kenny Tete that cut short his Chelsea debut.
The £9m spent to free the Portuguese playmaker from kicking his heels at Atletico Madrid initially looked like a shrewd investment as the former Benfica sensation sparkled in the early stages of an incredibly open game. He skipped away from Tim Ream to fashion the game’s first opening for Kai Havertz, with teenage full back Lewis Hall slamming a shot straight at Bernd Leno. The German made another good save later on from the young left back, but Chelsea ultimately paid the penalty for trying to pass their way out of trouble.
They hadn’t heeded the warning signs that flashed after Kalidou Koulibably was robbed by the all-action Vinicius, who played in Bobby Decordova-Reid. The versatile Jamaican who powered up and down the right flank all evening cracked a rising drive against the crossbar. He held his head in despair but the former Bristol City man’s work ethic was soon to set up the opening goal. Decordova-Reid picked Hall’s pocket and sent in a cross that Trevoh Chalobah could only head to Willian. The wily winger, reborn on the banks of the Thanes, darted inside Cesar Azpilicueta before shooting into the far corner, with the aid of a deflection off the defender that left Kepa Arizzabalaga with no chance.
Willian opted not to celebrate against his former employers, but Craven Cottage bounced with a buoyancy to rival the night Roy Hodgson’s men knocked out Hamburg on their way to a European final. Chelsea came back with Felix their most frequent source of guile. He might have done better than shoot straight at Leno after Kai Havertz had stolen possession from a twitchy Tosin Adarabioyo before Fulham finished the half in rousing fashion. Vincius, who won his battle with Chelsea’s three centre backs, almost poked a Tete cross past an uncertain Kepa before the Cottage roared the Whites off at the interval.
Chelsea regrouped during the interval and penned their hosts back from the restart. A generous free-kick awarded against Decordova-Reid saw Mason Mount go for goal from an acute angle. The ball bounced back off the base of the near post and Koulibaly diverted the rebound over the line before Leno could recover. For the first time since the early stages, Potter’s men were in the ascendancy but Felix’s wild lunge at Tete meant it was merely fleeting.
The visitors looked lively despite being a man short as Havertz fired a shot into Leno’s face after a lightning fast break. Silva sent on Tom Cairney and Fulham were fluent again. A simple pass from Tete gave Andreas Pereira room on the right and the Brazilian’s perfect cross allowed Vinicius to peel off Silva and punish Arrizabalaga for venturing off his line. Fulham endured six minutes of stoppage time, during which Havertz stung Leno’s palms, but were eventually able to celebrate a victory that meant much more than just three points.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Leno; Tete, A. Robinson, Adarabioyo, Ream; Palhinha, Reed (Cairney 68); Decordova-Reid (Wilson 68), Willian (Solomon 83), Pereira (James 90+3); Vinicius (N. Chalobah 90+4). Subs (not used): Rodak, Diop, Kurzawa, Harris.
BOOKED: A. Robinson, Pereira, Adarabioyo, Leno.
GOALS: Willian (25), Vinicius (73)
CHELSEA (3-4-3): Arrizabalaga; T. Chalobah (Cucurella 79), Silva, Koulibaly; Azpilicueta, Hall (Chukwumeka 79), Kovacic (Gallagher 79), Zakaria (Jorginho 56); Mount (Ziyech 80), Felix, Havertz. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Badiashile, Fofana, Aubameyang.
BOOKED: T. Chalobah, Hall, Mount.
SENT OFF: Felix
GOAL: Koulibaly (47).
REFEREE: David Coote (Northamptonshire).