Oscar’s third goal of the season and John Mikel Obi’s third of his Chelsea career put the team back on the winning path in Saturday’s tea-time game.
The Blues had to wait until the second half for the breakthrough after a first period in which the performance improved towards the interval.
The Brazilian found the net from close range shortly after the restart but the biggest cheer of the day came when the identity of the second scorer became clear, Mikel netting for the first time since January 2007 and for first time in the Premier League.
Chelsea had a couple of worthy penalty claims turned down and although Petr Cech denied Darren Bent twice early in the game, overall our visitors from down the road cannot complain about the result.
The defence was the one that started the first three games of the season with John Terry returning in place of David Luiz.
Ramires was available again after his European suspension and came back in with John Mikel Obi the other central midfielder. Andre Schurrle replaced Willian on the right and Samuel Eto’o started up front for the third game running.
Fulham had two strikers racing to be fit in time. Bent made it but Dimitar Berbatov didn’t. Damien Duff came in on the right of their attack for injured Bryan Ruiz and Fernando Amorebieta replaced Philippe Senderos as Brede Hangeland’s partner in central defence.
After two defeats, an early goal would have done wonders for the team and the crowd’s confidence but Fulham proved a tough nut to crack. Going forward themselves in the first half, they did enough to warn that Chelsea would need to defend with care if a repeat of the midweek shock against Basel was not to become a possibility.
Steve Sidwell, one of three ex-Chelsea players in the Fulham line-up headed the first chance over when he beat Mikel to a ball chipped over inside five minutes, but then Branislav Ivanovic whipped a ball over at the other end which Eto’o darted in front of the keeper to meet first. He couldn’t turn it goalwards.
It was Mikel’s loose pass forward that allowed a quick ball forward for Bent to chase having run behind Terry and Cahill, but Cech did the job required with his feet outside his area.
The Chelsea keeper then did excellently with his hands 12 minutes in when Ramires this time gave Fulham the chance for a quick break. Bent was the man again denied having beaten the offside, this time by a save when he shot too close to Cech. There were Chelsea shouts for a penalty soon after when Hazard appeared to be barged in the back by Sascha Riether. Nothing given.
Schurrle was taking free-kicks from both sides of the pitch and one from the right was helped on its way by the head of Ramires but it was comfortable for Stockdale to save. The Fulham keeper was less convincing in dealing with an in-swinging corner from the German midway through the half but he survived when he missed his punch.
The Blues needed to find space, with the passing not sufficient to work a path through a crowd camped on the edge of the Fulham box. It fell to the skipper to spin a good, long pass out wide that allowed Eto’o to cut inside and release a powerful shot. A deflection and corner was the Cameroonian’s only reward.
Hazard’s willingness to take the ball into tight spots earned a clumsy foul from Kasami. With the more regular direct free-kick takers not in the team, Oscar took control but his attempt hit the top of the wall.
A bright passage of play by the Blues culminated in Hazard volleying off-target when Stockdale’s punched clearance fell in range. The Belgian had the next effort too, scuffing a 20-yarder well wide. Chelsea were still looking for a spark to ignite this performance.
Half-time was close and good covering by Cahill kept Fulham well at bay when Terry’s initial challenge was bypassed. With two minutes to go before the break the Cottagers had their biggest scare yet. It took Cole to show the control needed inside the area to cause Fulham to open up, but when Ivanovic slammed a shot goalwards, a double ricochet kept it away from the target.
The goal that brought Stamford Bridge to its feet and eased the tension that had built in the first half came five minutes after the restart. Hazard drove the ball forward initially but the most crucial contribution was from Schurrle, who on the left of the area dropped a shoulder and darted to the by-line, finding the yard necessary to shoot on target.
Twice the keeper handled badly, with Mikel picking up the initial rebound. When the ball broke loose to Oscar, the Brazilian made no mistake from close range.
With no further chances coming but Chelsea holding the lead comfortably, Jose Mourinho made his first change on 63 minutes, Torres coming on for Eto’o who had shown a couple of impressive moments of footwork. Fulham swapped Duff for Adel Taarabt at the same time.
Chelsea went in search of the cushion a second goal would bring and with a bit more space to play in now the lead had been taken, Oscar and Hazard’s passing was beginning to test our local rivals.
Ramires claimed a penalty for a trip by Amorebieta but again referee Andre Marriner waved play on. Replays showed the Chelsea midfielder’s foot had been caught by his opponent.
Then Ivanovic hammer a dangerous looking ball into a crowded goalmouth but Fulham escaped.
Former Chelsea Academy player Buomesca Na Bangna was introduced into the Fulham midfield for the last 20 minutes. Lampard replaced Schurrle seven minutes later.
A Chelsea counter-attack briefly threatened but Ramires didn’t have the space to shoot when Torres pushed the ball his way. Torres didmuch better from the corner that followed, Stockdale denying the Spaniard’s header with a splendid save. However that meant another corner and from that the lead was doubled.
Terry was colossal in heading it back into the danger zone and there was Mikel to gymnastically hook the ball home for the second close-range strike of the game. His wait for a goal that had lasted 261 games was over, and now the crowd could have some fun.
‘John Obi Mikel, he scores when he wants’ and ‘Have you ever seen Mikel score a goal?’ were part of the repertoire as the fans sang the team to victory in the SW6 derby. The three points put Chelsea top of the table ahead of the Sunday fixtures.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry (c), Cole; Ramires, Mikel; Schurrle (Lampard 78), Oscar, Hazard (De Bruyne 84); Eto’o (Torres 63).
Unused subs Schwarzer, Azpilicueta, Essien, Willian.
Scorers Oscar 50, Mikel 86.
Fulham (4-2-3-1): Stockdale, Riether, Hangeland, Amorebieta, Richardson; Parker, Sidwell; Duff (Taarabt 63), Kasami (Rodallega 84), Kacaniklic (Na Bangna71); Bent.
Unused subs Etheridge, Zverotic , Senderos, Karagounis.
Referee Andre Marriner.