Drogba's parting shot saves Chelsea

Chelsea 2 Fulham 1

In the past month Chelsea have turned into football's equivalent of Gordon Brown – still leading the country but Lord only knows how. Ever since their emphatic 3-0 victory at Arsenal, Chelsea have turned into a one-man team.

Without Didier Drogba's timely intervention, which provided the spark for their second win in six league games, Chelsea looked to be heading to what would have been a crushing defeat. Instead, they head into the New Year five points clear.

Drogba, like Chelsea, was awful for the first hour of the game. The striker was at his melodramatic worst, rolling around in agony at the slightest touch. But he and Chelsea woke from their slumbers in time to win an entertaining London derby and secure three vital points. Jose Mourinho certainly picked his moment to return to Stamford Bridge for the first time since his dismissal more than two years ago. Mourinho's Internazionale side play Chelsea in the Champions League on 24 February, so the Special One took the opportunity to see his former club play before they lose Drogba, Salomon Kalou, Michael Essien and John Obi Mikel to the African Nations Cup. He will not have been impressed.

Sitting in the seat up in the West Stand, opposite the dugout he used to occupy with such a flourish, Mourinho watched as his former club continued their recent habit of looking like a team that rarely plays together. Carlo Ancelotti, the Chelsea manager, made six changes from the side that drew 0-0 at Birmingham on Boxing Day, and it showed. Passes went astray and runs went unspotted as Chelsea floundered against their local rivals. It is customary to invite the neighbours round during the festive period, but Chelsea took their hospitality duties a little too seriously.

They were booed off the pitch at half-time after a dire opening 45 minutes. Fulham took the lead after four minutes when Chelsea failed to deal with Paul Konchesky's cross from the left. Ricardo Carvalho missed his attempted header and John Terry failed to stop Bobby Zamora steering the ball towards Zoltan Gera, who flicked the ball up before scoring with a bicycle kick.

Petr Cech tipped over a curling shot from Clint Dempsey as Fulham scented Chelsea were there for the taking. The Chelsea jitters were in full flow, and their goalkeeper also saved well from Zamora after a terrible back header from Carvalho.

Gradually in the second half Chelsea began to find greater width, particularly once Branislav Ivanovic replaced the ineffectual Paulo Ferreira. Drogba hauled Chelsea level with his 19th goal of what is becoming a prolific season. Ivanovic burst down the right flank and arrowed a cross to the far post where stand-in right-back Chris Baird was guilty of ball-watching and Drogba ghosted in at the far post to head the ball into the Fulham net. Baird had been forced into defence after the excellent John Pantsil came off with a twisted knee.

Victory for Chelsea came in the most fortunate of circumstances. Fulham had coped admirably without their towering defender Brede Hangeland, who twisted his knee ligaments in the Boxing Day draw with Spurs. Chris Smalling, who 18 months ago was playing for Maidstone in the Isthmian League, was thrown in for his first league start, and the 20-year-old coped superbly.

However, Smalling's day was ruined when Daniel Sturridge's shot was parried by Fulham keeper Mark Schwarzer and the England Under-21 defender could do nothing as the rebound struck him on the knee and rolled back into his own goal.

With their tails up, Chelsea were transformed and in the final moments their Ivorian front pair of Drogba and Kalou both went close.

Drogba dragged a shot wide, and Kalou struck the bar with a shot from the edge of the penalty area. At the final whistle, Drogba theatrically organised the Chelsea players into a huddle on the pitch and delivered a farewell speech to his team-mates, presumably something along the lines of, "you can do it without me". He then followed it by throwing his shirt to the crowd. The Ivorian flies off today for a month of African Nations Cup action, and Chelsea have to hope their title aspirations do not depart with him.

Chelsea (4-1-2-1-2): Cech; Ferreira (Ivanovic, 65), Carvalho, Terry, Zhirkov (A Cole, 84); Mikel (Sturridge, 70); Lampard, Ballack; J Cole; Kalou, Drogba. Substitutes not used: Hilario (gk), Alex, Belletti, Kakuta.

Fulham (4-3-2-1): Schwarzer; Pantsil (Etuhu 66), Hughes, Smalling, Konchesky; Duff (Riise 85), Murphy, Baird; Gera (A Johnson, 71), Dempsey; Zamora. Substitutes not used: Zuberbuhler (gk), Nevland, Greening, Kallio. Referee: A Marriner (West Midlands).

Booked: Chelsea Drogba; Fulham Baird.

Man of the match: Smalling.

Attendance: 41,805.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss