Lap of honour in paradise postponed

Chelsea 3 - Fulham 1
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The Independent Online

St George's Day goals by two Englishmen propelled Chelsea closer towards the title yesterday, before Eidur Gudjohnsen wrapped up three more points and prompted the first chants of the day for San Jose. Mourinho knows the way to win trophies and his substitutions, a typical mixture of the shrewd and quirky, had significant influence here.

St George's Day goals by two Englishmen propelled Chelsea closer towards the title yesterday, before Eidur Gudjohnsen wrapped up three more points and prompted the first chants of the day for San Jose. Mourinho knows the way to win trophies and his substitutions, a typical mixture of the shrewd and quirky, had significant influence here.

With Wednesday's Champions' League semi-final at home to Liverpool in mind, the most important of them was the arrival at half-time of Arjen Robben, whose pace added a new dimension as the replacement for Joe Cole. His freshness contrasted with the weariness of many team-mates, which Mourinho believed was responsible for the comparatively modest quality of his team's performance. They were sluggish until Cole scored with a beautifully struck shot in the 17th minute, and even then Ricardo Carvalho allowed Collins John in to equalise. Midway through the second half, Robben set up Frank Lampard for the second goal and Tiago, another substitute, eventually sent Gudjohnsen through for the third.

Fulham, with Tomasz Radzinski and Luis Boa Morte wide, might have been outnumbered in the middle of the pitch, but Mark Pembridge and Lee Clark kept them competitive, even in the absence of Papa Bouba Diop's physical strength, and Boa Morte's trickery was always a threat. Mourinho admitted that the visitors were unfortunate to lose on the day, claiming they were fresher after having an extra day's rest since their midweek match. He will not be able to apply the same excuse against Liverpool.

At least there are no fresh injuries, and William Gallas, rested here, will be ready to return on Wednesday. If there are any weaknesses to be exploited, full-back would be an area Rafael Benitez and his coaches should concentrate on, for Glen Johnson was again shaky, which encouraged Fulham to feed Boa Morte down his flank.

The perfect scenario for Chelsea, of course, would have been to have beaten Arsenal in midweek and then win yesterday, sewing things up 50 years to the day after the club's only previous title. Watched by Roy Bentley, the captain of the 1955 team, they seemed to be suffering not so much a hangover from Wednesday's exertions as the sort of torpor that often seems to surround these lunchtime kick-offs. Damien Duff's mastery of Moritz Volz down the Chelsea left was the most encouraging feature early on, Didier Drogba heading one peach of a cross over the bar.

The unfortunate Volz was at fault for the opening goal, allowing the ball to bounce off him to Drogba, who laid it square for Cole to bend past Edwin van der Sar from 20 yards. Racing to the dug-out to receive congratulations, Cole was told to swap wings with Duff, who immediately set up Drogba for a swivel and left-footed shot past a post. Careless defending then allowed Cole to break on to John Terry's long header before missing his kick, and Lampard was not picked up as he took Cole's pass and fed Drogba, whose control betrayed him.

Only after almost half an hour, did the pattern begin to change and Fulham come into the game. Liam Rosenior forced his way to the byline and cut a cross back to Brian McBride, who hooked it too high from the edge of the six-yard box. Pembridge then dispossessed Lampard and set off to shoot wide from 25 yards, and Robert Huth, standing in at left-back, did well to beat Zat Knight at the far post.

The equaliser four minutes before the interval was nevertheless unexpected, not least because of the identity of the Chelsea defender at fault. Carvalho seemed to be well placed to see off John as he received from Boa Morte, but a badly mistimed tackle that might in any case have led to a penalty allowed the Dutchman to steer the ball smartly past Petr Cech into the far corner of the net. Terry's yellow card for a late tackle and John's drive wide as the ball sat up nicely from Radzinski's cross illustrated that the champions-elect were stalling.

Mourinho reacted as decisively as ever. Having told his charges at the interval that they would need all their character to see them through, he added Robben and Jiri Jarosik to the mix, removing Cole and Huth while dropping Duff back to an unfamiliar full-back role. As his substitutions do, it worked rather well. Instead of Radzinski taking advantage of Duff's defensive inexperience, Fulham found themselves being pushed towards their own goal.

Robben, who has not started a match since a crude tackle at Blackburn crocked him two months ago, looked like a man desperate to make up for lost time. With almost his first touch he crossed for Gudjohnsen to beat Van der Sar, only to be denied by a linesman's flag. In the 64th minute, however, Duff advanced to a more natural position and found Robben, who in turn supplied Lampard for a smart finish. It was the supposedly conservative Chelsea's 100th goal of the season.

Another one eventually followed, Tiago sending Gudjohnsen clear with Alain Goma caught badly out of position, though Cech was required to make excellent saves on either side of that, from first Radzinski, cutting inside, and then John's deflected free-kick.

"It was a very good performance," said Fulham's manager Chris Coleman, who blames inconsistency and great expectations for a disappointing season after finishing ninth last time. "We had a go at the best team in the League and troubled them, so there are a lot of positives. Chelsea have the best players and are well organised, with a great sense of togetherness." It was that quality that pleased Mourinho as much as anything.

"The group is fantastic," he said. "The reason why we won was character. If Fulham had scored the second goal, they would have won the game. But I don't want to win the title on Monday and then lose at Bolton." The perfectionist, as ever. He will demand greater quality, nevertheless, when Liverpool come to town in three days' time.

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