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.

Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas