They sensed blood in SW6. That's usually a cue for Chelsea to pick off some star-struck opposition but, this time, it was the Premiership champions, again, who were there for the taking against their local rivals, Fulham, who share the same postcode if not the same resources. In the end, and despite the continuing disappointment of Andriy Shevchenko and Ashley Cole, Chelsea secured the victory through two second-half goals by Frank Lampard. He would have fallen into the failure category too but for his strikes and was far from his best.
Luis Boa Morte was an absentee, through injury, as was, of course, Jimmy Bullard. It prompted the Fulham manager, Chris Coleman, to claim his squad was looking "a bit bleak" - and that was before the embarrassment of the midweek Carling Cup defeat to Wycombe.
If his team had the air of the makeshift, then so, bizarrely, did Jose Mourinho's. A sore back deprived Chelsea of John Terry and the captain walked gingerly around the pitch before kick-off which would appear to put in doubt his participation in this week's Champions' League tie away to Levski Sofia.
With Khalid Boulahrouz absent, Mourinho was forced to move one of his full-backs, Paulo Ferreira, into the centre of defence. So much for the best-resourced club in the world. Fulham sensed the opportunity and, aided by a slack pass by Michael Essien, straight to Moritz Volz, almost went ahead when Wayne Routledge broke clear. His cross was returned to him and the winger's curling shot was beaten away by Petr Cech.
It was also an opportunity for Lampard. Awarded the captaincy, in Terry's absence, he was also given greater freedom by Michael Ballack's three-match ban for his dismissal last week. But the way he attempted to beat Antti Niemi, with a free-kick from almost 40 yards showed a player trying a little too hard.
But Chelsea turned the screw. Arjen Robben, on his return from an ankle injury, threw himself into the air to meet Liam Rosenior's challenge, much to the annoyance of the home fans, and quickly sent a cross to the back post which only just evaded Didier Drogba, who had earlier skimmed a low shot wide.
Then, from a sudden breakaway, Shevchenko slipped the ball to Robben who took one touch and drove in a fierce, swerving left-footed shot from 25 yards which thudded off the underside of the crossbar and bounced back into play with Niemi beaten. Moments later and the Finn was sharp enough to clutch on to Essien's shot while Gérémi sent another marginally wide from a free-kick.
Fulham steadied. But, with a midfield including four defensive players, and a lone striker, they lacked menace. At half-time Mourinho showed his frustration by marching into the centre circle to confront the referee. He would also have dealt with his players' lack of cohesion although, as the match resumed, Cole allowed a punt forward to bounce over his head and only Lampard's alert tackle prevented Rosenior a sight of goal. If anything Chelsea became more disjointed. Lampard twice pulled out of tackles, as did Cole, before the ball rebounded off the former to Michael Brown who challenged Cech. It ran free, towards goal, and Ferreira cleared.
Just after the hour, Fulham should have gone in front. Franck Queudrue swung in a free-kick, which reached Papa Bouba Diop who was allowed a free header but planted it wide. Drogba then perpetrated an even more culpable miss. Niemi blocked Shevchenko's shot but the ball landed at his strike partner who struck it into the turf, before it grazed the top of the crossbar. He was five yards out. Suddenly Chelsea were - literally - handed the advantage.
The substitute Salomon Kalou pushed the ball beyond Rosenior and, as the full-back went to ground, he struck out his right arm. Hand-ball. Lampard, who has missed four of his last five penalties, drove the spot-kick high into the net. Revitalised, Lampard scored again. Once more the impressive Kalou was involved, before Drogba laid the ball to Lampard who struck it beyond Niemi to kill the contest.Reuse content