Two goals in two minutes were enough for Chelsea to snatch a come from behind win over neighbours Fulham, at Stamford Bridge. Having fallen behind to an early and easily preventable goal from Zoltan Gera, a marvellous header from Didier Drogba and an own goal from Chris Smalling after good work from Salomon Kalou and Daniel Sturridge, was enough to end our winless streak.
It was all change in the fullback positions, with Yuri Zhirkov making his first Premier League start on the left and on the right, Paulo Ferreira, first choice right back in our league winning seasons under Jose Mourinho, was given a very rare start, having slipped behind Ivanovic, Bosingwa and Belletti in the right back pecking order. Daniel Sturridge dropped to the bench having started against Birmingham.
It took just three minutes though, for Fulham to steal the opening goal. Paul Konchesky found enough space to cross from the left and when the ball beat Carvalho,, Terry and Zhirkov made a complete hash of clearing their lines. Gera was alert enough to tee himself up and calmly sweep a finish past the helpless Petr Cech.
Didier Drogba fired two efforts straight at the ever-consistent Mark Schwarzer in the Fulham goal, though neither presented too much trouble for the Australian goalkeeper. Paulo Ferreira was getting into decent crossing positions on the right, but the football was largely uninspiring.
Just before the half hour John Terry went down with a nasty facial gash, caused by the studs of the Russian, Zhirkov. His first Premier League start was not going as planned.
Clint Dempsey tested Petr Cech’s reactions a few minutes later, the Chelsea stopped doing well to tip over a shot from the Fulham midfielder. The rest of the half was characterised by the ongoing tussle between John Paintsil and Didier Drogba. Plenty of huffing and puffing, but no end result.
Fulham should have doubled their lead within a minute of the second half kicking off. Ricardo Carvalho attempted to chest the ball back to Petr Cech, but anticipating this, in form Bobby Zamora nipped between the two players, only to see Cech’s giant frame spread to make a fantastic save. Cech visibly displayed to Carvalho that he thought a back header would have been a better idea.
Carlo Ancelotti had seen enough and replaced Paulo Ferreira with Branislav Ivanovic in a curious straight swap. John Paintsil hobbled off and was replaced by Dickson Etuhu and soon after, Daniel Sturridge replaced John Obi Mikel, as Chelsea switched to a Mourinho-esque 4-3-3 formation. Coincidentally, Mourinho was at Stamford Bridge as an observer, housed in Roman Abramovich’s private box.
Finally, after 72 minutes, the Blues were level. An excellent cross from the substitute defender Ivanovic picked out Drogba at the back post, where he powered a header past the helpless Schwarzer. It was his 19th goal of the season in all competitions and a parting gift before his African sojourn.
Two minutes later, Chelsea had turned it around. Kalou, now playing wide right, did brilliantly to beat his man before crossing to Sturridge at the back post. The young forward smashed the ball goalwards, forcing an outstanding reaction save from Schwarzer. However, the ball rebounded into the back of defender Chris Smalling, whose despairing effort couldn’t stop the ball crossing the line.
Fulham rallied in the final ten minutes, testing the Chelsea defence with set pieces. Up the other end, Salomon Kalou rattled the cross bar with a fantastic 25 yarder that had Schwarzer beaten. It was to be the last goalmouth action of a frenetic game, one that could prove to be a decisive moment come seasons end. 2-1 the final score, Chelsea five points clear.
Chelsea (4-4-2 diamond): Cech; Ferreira (Ivanovic 64), Carvalho, Terry (c), Zhirkov (A Cole 83); Mikel (Sturridge 69), Ballack, Lampard, J Cole; Kalou, Drogba.
Unused subs Hilario, Alex, Belletti, Kakuta.
Manager Carlo Ancelotti
Fulham (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer; Pantsil (Etuhu 66), Hughes, Smalling, Konchesky; Duff (Riise 84), Murphy (c), Baird, Dempsey; Gera (Johnson 70); Zamora.
Unused subs Zuberbuhler, Kallio, Greening, Nevland.
Manager Roy Hodgson
Referee Andre Marriner