An afternoon of rapture for Fulham nearly became one of infamy as a pitch battle between supporters of these West London rivals was only narrowly averted.
When Mike Dean blew the final whistle on Fulham's first win over their neighbours in 27 years, home fans invaded the pitch to celebrate. Ineffectual stewarding and an absence of admonishment on the public address led to them cavorting before the away fans. Inevitably some Chelsea supporters reacted angrily and, too, invaded the pitch. Twenty-seven years ago this would certainly have resulted in a pitch battle but, maybe, two decades of strong anti-hooliganism measures, and the gentrification of football, have changed attitudes. A few scuffles broke out but for most, fortunately, posturing was enough.
The Football Association will doubtless investigate and Fulham can expect punishment. The sadness of this is that it will detract from a magnificent victory, secured by a fortuitous but deserved 16th-minute goal from Luis Boa Morte, which ensured their continued survival in the Premiership for another season.
Chelsea, of course, never lose quietly. This time Jose Mourinho was understandably unhappy about the chalking off of what would have been an equaliser by Didier Drogba after the officials appeared to change their minds under pressure from Fulham players. The injury-time dismissal of William Gallas added to Chelsea's disgruntlement.
"If it was handball the decision is correct," said Mourinho, "but I can promise you, the linesman [who was consulted before the referee disallowed the goal] did not see it, his view was the same as mine. They did not [change the decision] because of what they saw, but because of the pressure Fulham players put on them. When Chelsea does this it is the end of the world, we are punished and the FA comes running after us."
Chris Coleman, the Fulham manager was understandably jubilant, more so having been linked with the sack this week. His decision to ask Steed Malbranque to sit on Claude Makelele whenever Chelsea had possession proved a masterstroke. It prompted Mourinho to withdraw Joe Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips after just 25 minutes, during which Fulham had utterly outplayed the champions.
Such substitutions appear to be done as much for their long-term effect, as for their influence on the match. The message is, "I'm the boss and I expect players to perform all the time."
Mourinho insisted that they made a big difference but Chelsea only stretched Mark Crossley once in the first half - from Damien Duff's shot - and their second-half dominance was in part a consequence of Fulham sitting on their lead.
The last time Fulham played at home Arsenal's manifest superiority reduced them to fighting amongst themselves. This time the angst was Chelsea's. As well as the young Englishmen, Robert Huth was also hauled off early, at half-time. Of Chelsea's other centre-halves Ricardo Carvalho was booked for a reckless tackle on Brian McBride and John Terry was fortunate not to have conceded a fifth-minute penalty when he slid into Moritz Volz. Even with the benefit of several television replays the decision was hard to call but there was no doubt that it was a poor attempt at a tackle from a defender with World Cup pretensions.
There was a general lethargy about Chelsea which was underlined in the approach to Fulham's goal. It all stemmed from a Fulham throw-in at which Michael Essien failed to pick up Mark Pembridge allowing him to feed Boa Morte. He squared to Malbranque then moved into space to receive a neat return.
At this point Fulham received the fortune their performance deserved as Paulo Ferreira's attempted clearance cannoned against Boa Morte's shins and past Petr Cech.
Fulham should have doubled their lead when Mark Pembridge released Collins John. However, he shot tamely at Cech. It seemed significant as one goal never looked like being enough - Fulham's defence had conceded 19 goals in six games.
In the 59th-minute, after Pembridge had hit the post, Chelsea's equaliser seemed to have arrived. Drogba got to a long punt from Carvalho ahead of Knight and, with Crossley making an insane sprint from his goal, was able to roll the ball into an empty net. A goal seemed to have been given but, after long consultation between the officials, Drogba was booked.
Chelsea kept pressing but with Crossley making a superb injury-time save from Terry Coleman was able to savour what he described as the "best win of my management career".
Goal: Boa Morte (16) 1-0.
Fulham (4-4-2): Crossley; Volz, Knight, Pearce, Rosenior; Brown, Pembridge, Malbranque (Christanval, 88), Boa Morte; McBride, John (Helguson, 70). Substitutes not used: Warner (gk), Radzinski, Jensen.
Chelsea (4-1-2-3): Cech; Ferriera, Huth (Carvalho, h-t), Terry, Gallas; Makelele; Essien, Lampard; Wright-Phillips (Drogba, 25), Crespo, Cole (Duff, 25). Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Maniche.
Referee: M Dean (Wirral).
Booked: Fulham Brown; Chelsea Huth, Carvalho, Drogba, Makelele.
Sent off: Chelsea Gallas.
Man of the match: Malbranque.
Attendance: 22,486.Reuse content