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Chelsea 2-1 Fulham


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mhstand1.jpgA Didier Drogba-led revival ensured Chelsea came from behind to beat neighbours Fulham in a pulsating London derby.

The visitors took a surprise lead inside five minutes when Zoltan Gera superbly hooked the ball beyond Petr Cech, but found themselves on the back foot as Chelsea surged forward looking for an equaliser.

They were forced to wait until Didier Drogba powered home a bullet header from a Branislav Ivanovic cross, before Chris Smalling helplessly beat his own goalkeeper to extend the Blues' lead at the top of the table.

Following Manchester United's win at Hull yesterday, Carlo Ancelotti will be relieved to see his side win just their second game in eight matches as the Blues increased the gap between themselves and their northern rivals to five points.

A frustrating end to 2009 sees Chelsea complete a frustrating festive period, after dropping points away at strugglers West Ham and in-form Birmingham.

Carlo Ancelotti made six changes to the side that earned a credible clean sheet at St Andrews' on Boxing Day, with Joe Cole, Salomon Kalou and Yuri Zhirkov amongst those brought into the side. Other notable inclusions were John Mikel Obi and Drogba, who, like Kalou, had been granted permission to leave a day late for international duty.

Despite plenty of early possession during the opening exchanges, Chelsea's new-look defence was left exposed when Paul Konchesky set up Zoltan Gera, who emphatically hooked the ball past Petr Cech after just four minutes.

Chelsea were shell-shocked, and though they were having no trouble in retaining the ball, their lack of confidence was demonstrated with laboured build-up play being paired with a poor final delivery.

The hosts' best efforts in the first half were both through Drogba; the first of which forcing an excellent low save from Fulham's Australian goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer. His strike partner, Kalou, also had a number of opportunities, but he flashed a low drive wide before later poking horrendously off-target when well-placed.

There was a small chorus of boos from a minority of Chelsea supporters at the half-time whistle, but those boos seemed to be the fuel to which Chelsea pulled off a sensational comeback that had looked increasingly unlikely.

However Fulham had a golden opportunity to extend the lead seconds into the half, but Cech made an exceptional save from Zamora when the in-form striker looked to put his side 2-0 up.

But Chelsea were relentless; constantly pinning back Fulham and keeping them under immense pressure. Drogba gave an early indication that the Blues were far from done when he forced a superb save from Schwarzer with a fizzing effort, and the tireless Kalou was becoming more and more involved.

Chelsea had been suffering from a lack of width in their play in the first half, but Ancelotti switched his formation around; a change that saw Kalou and substitute Daniel Sturridge switch to wide positions in an attacking 4-3-3 shape.

But on 73 minutes, substitute Branislav Ivanovic fired in a superb delivery that Drogba converted with a bullet header to deservedly draw Chelsea level.

The Blues had dominated the game for almost its entirety, and it was little surprise to the Stamford Bridge crowd that they would go on to claim a second goal in quick succession after a confidence-evoking equaliser.

Chelsea's young forward Sturridge forced a good save out of Schwarzer, but his parry only brought about the winning goal as the ball bounced in off of the unfortunate Smalling.

There was time for Kalou to clip the crossbar with a stunning effort, but despite a late rally by the visitors that saw a number of corners pumped into the Chelsea penalty area, the Blues held out for a massive victory that could just point them towards the title once again.

___________________________________________________________________

Chelsea: Cech, Ferreira (Ivanovic 63), Carvalho, Terry ©, Zhirkov (A Cole 83); Mikel (Sturridge 70), Ballack, Lampard; J Cole, Kalou, Drogba

Fulham: Schwarzer; Pantsil (Etuhu 66), Hughes, Smalling, Konchesky; Duff (Riise 83), Murphy ©, Baird, Dempsey; Gera (Johnson 70); Zamora

The TalkChelsea.net Man of the Match was Chelsea's number 11 - Didier Drogba

Didier-Drogba-001.jpg

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