Russian billionaire Abramovich showed up at the club Christmas party on Thursday and told the players he bought he was 100% behind them despite defeatsagainst Bolton and Aston Villa. And Claudio Ranieri's men reacted in exactly the manner the owner wanted - beating Fulham 1-0 thanks to Hernan Crespo's bullet header.
Carlo Cudicini had had to save Chelsea twice in the second minute, first from Louis Saha and then Andy Melville. The visitors from down the Fulham Road did establish superiority for much of the first half but found Edwin van der Sar in imperious form between the Fulhamsticks. Arguably the pick of the big Dutchman's saves was when he dived across the goalmouth to deny Damien Duff, who injured his shoulder when falling aftershooting and was stretchered off.
After the break, Lampard scuffed a shot from a great position after Crespo squared the ball to him. And Crespo showed Lampard how to do it after 61 minutes, towering above the statuesque Melville to power home his eighth goal of the season and the strikethat won this match. Fulham went close late on through Luis Boa Morte but Chelsea stood firm to revive their title challenge and give their supporters the perfect Christmaspresent - the west London bragging rights.
For Chris Coleman's Cottagers, who have already beaten Manchester United and drawn with Arsenal this season, it was back to being the underdogs in SW6. They have not beaten Chelsea since 1979. Fulham had started brightly in front of a directors' box packed with big names. Sven-Goran Eriksson was present along with his partner Nancy Dell'Olio and rival owners Mohamed Al Fayed and Abramovich. Carlo Cudicini saved from Louis Saha's header after two minutes, then seized Melville's flicked header just below his crossbar. At the other end, Duff brought an excellent save from Edwin van der Sar with a 20-yard effort.
But the Blues winger fell awkwardly as he was challenged by Sean Davis when he shot and was stretchered off clutching his right shoulder. Duff's injury handed Joe Cole an early taste of the action from the bench. And Ranieri's side could have taken the lead in the 12th minute when Crespo broke into space but poked a shot wide under pressure from Melville.
Chelsea were beginning to take the upper hand and, at the half-way point in the first period, Cole fed Mutu who stung van der Sar's palms with an angleddrive. The Blues twice went close to the opener in the 32nd minute. First, Steed Malbranque's clearance rebounded off Glen Johnson and Jon Harley headed over his crossbar as the ball threatened to bounce in. Then Crespo cleverly diverted a near-post corner back to the penalty spot and John Terry's strike was smartly blocked by van der Sar right on his goalline. Fulham suffered an injury blow when Davis hobbled off holding his right thigh, to be replaced by Martin Djetou. Cudicini made a superb save from Melville's powerful header on the stroke of half-time. Chelsea fashioned a great opening six minutes after the break and should have taken the lead. Cole skipped away from a challenge and slipped a fine pass in behind Melville. Crespo raced onto it and squared for Lampard - but the midfielder scuffed his shot and van der Sar saved well at the foot of his left-hand post. But the Dutch keeper was powerless to prevent the visitors seizing the lead after 61 minutes. Wayne Bridge fired over an arcing cross from the left and Crespo towered above Melville - who bizarrely did not even challenge the striker - and thumped aheader into the top corner. Cudicini had luck on his side four minutes later as Boa Morte raced into the area and shot, with the ball beating the Italian keeper's dive but hitting hisboot and rebounding into his grasp. Cudicini fisted away Malbranque's deflected 25-yard piledriver, while van der Sar had to be alert to save a fierce drive from Cole and block Lampard'sclose-range effort. Late on, Fulham right-back Moritz Volz sent a 25-yarder fizzing a foot over the top.