Fulham 0 Chelsea 2: Lampard puts mechanical Chelsea back in driving seat

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The Independent Football

Jose Mourinho brushed aside the concerns over the anaemic form of Andrei Shevchenko and Ashley Cole, the worries over the spasms in John Terry's back, which may mean he misses Wednesday's Champions' League tie against Levski Sofia, and Chelsea's stubbornly uninspired football. Instead he hit home one unerring truth. His team are top of the Premiership.

And not just that but, Mourinho feels, they are already far better off than they were last season. So much for the stats which, before Saturday, appeared to show that, after a summer of upheaval, Chelsea had actually made their most sluggish start for four years.

Mourinho, as ever, saw it differently. "What's important for me is six matches and 15 points," he said when asked about the form shown by some of his stellar players. "Last season we lost at Fulham, Blackburn, Middlesbrough and drew at home with Charlton. So we have eight points more." Chelsea, of course, were defeated at Middlesbrough again this season but have now beaten the other three teams with Fulham the latest to fall through two late Frank Lampard goals which put a gloss on the champions' performance - and that of their stand-in captain.

Lampard's first was a penalty, won by the impressive Salomon Kalou, a second-half substitute for Arjen Robben, who had struck the crossbar. Kalou added pace and directness to the Chelsea attack and panicked the otherwise excellent Liam Rosenior into handling the ball.

But it wasn't that, or Lampard's second goal, an opportunistic first-time shot from the edge of the area after more fine work by Kalou, which is the memory that lingers over the England midfielder's work at Craven Cottage. Instead it was the sight of him pulling out of two challenges - the first with the spiky Michael Brown, who was later fortunate not to be dismissed for a spiteful tackle on Cole, the second with Zat Knight - which undermined Mourinho's claims that Lampard was simply "fantastic".

Indeed Mourinho substituted him late on so that he could receive an ovation from the Chelsea fans - although it was heavily mixed with the remorseless abuse of the home supporters. But the evidence appears to point to Lampard still being out-of-sorts after the World Cup and, for his club, the arrival of Michael Ballack.

The German was absent, starting the first of his three match-ban, and so Lampard, after missing three of his last four, resumed penalty duties. Tellingly he refused Shevchenko, who had wanted to take the kick, and who is desperately in need of a goal, and a good game, the chance to score from the spot.

It's not Shevchenko's fault but, more and more, he appears a stranger in Mourinho's team. He teed up Didier Drogba - a more typical Mourinho purchase - with one opportunity after his shot was parried by Antti Niemi only for the Ivorian to scuff the ball into the turf and against the bar. But apart from that his contribution was to strike the roof of the stand with his only other shot and either make countless runs that were ignored - or stand with his hands on his hips.

It all contributed to a sense that Chelsea, also missing Khalid Boulahrouz, who was ill, and with Paulo Ferreira a makeshift central defender, were there for the taking. Fulham's blood was certainly up - especially as they had claimed their neighbour's scalp last spring in a result that Mourinho uncharitably called a "miracle". But they lacked the injured pair of Luis Boa Morte, who scored then, and Jimmy Bullard with manager Chris Coleman effectively fielding six defenders.

It blunted his attack. Still Coleman riled with a fierce sense of injustice afterwards at two penalty claims ignored by referee Mark Halsey. He's no friend of Fulham, according to Coleman, who has now requested the official never takes charge on their matches again.

"If we are going to have Mark Halsey in the future I hope it's not against Arsenal, Man Utd, Liverpool, Chelsea," he said. "The big teams, for whatever reason, when we have him at Craven Cottage, it's good for them." His comments may get him into hot water although Halsey was the referee, two years ago, who awarded Fulham a penalty and then changed his mind after protests from Arsenal defenders.

Goals: Lampard (73 pen) 0-1; Lampard (80) 0-2.

Fulham (4-4-1-1): Niemi; Rosenior, Knight, Pearce, Queudrue; Volz, Bocanegra (Helguson, 77), Diop, Routledge; Brown; John (McBride, 77). Substitutes not used: Lastuvka (gk), Radzinski, C Jensen.

Chelsea (4-1-3-2): Cech; Geremi, Carvalho, Ferreira, A Cole; Makelele; Essien, Lampard (Bridge, 90), Robben (Kalou, 57); Drogba, Shevchenko (Mikel, 76). Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Wright-Phillips.

Booked: Fulham Volz, Queudrue; Chelsea Carvalho.

Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire).

Man of the match: Kalou.

Attendance: 24,290.

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