Mason Mount’s late strike gave Chelsea just a second Premier League win in seven games as they beat 10-man Fulham 1-0 at Craven Cottage to ease the pressure on boss Frank Lampard.
Both sides had chances in the first half as Mount struck the bar and Ivan Cavaleiro fluffed a clear opening for Fulham, but the game’s complexion changed just before half-time when Antonee Robinson was dismissed for a high challenge on Cesar Azpilicueta (44).
Chelsea huffed and puffed in the second half, but were made to wait for the winner as man of the match Mount’s controlled half volley found the net from inside the box after Alphonse Areola’s weak punch clear from a cross (78).
Sub Timo Werner should have wrapped the win up late on, turning wide when through on goal, but the victory means Chelsea move up to seventh, seven points off leaders Manchester United, but having played a game more, while Fulham stay 18th, four points from safety.
Chelsea started with a 13th variation of their front three in just 18 Premier League games – this time Olivier Giroud, Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech – but they failed to break Fulham down in the first half despite a period of dominance.
Ziyech forced Areola into a decent save with a low drive from the edge of the area, Mount hit the bar as Joachim Andersen’s poor header clear found him on the right of the box and Areola pushed away Antonio Rudiger’s header from a corner, but Fulham’s back five survived the peppering and kept Giroud relatively quiet.
The hosts arguably had the best chance of the first half as Robinson and Ademola Lookman combined well on the left; Robinson squared for Kenny Tete, who then squared for Cavaleiro, but he could not compose himself as he miscued an effort over the bar with just Edouard Mendy to beat from 10 yards.
Robinson and Lookman had been winning the battle with Azpilicueta until the closing stages of the first half, but that battle ended in earnest as the Fulham left-back piled in high on the Chelsea skipper, catching him high with his follow through to earn a straight red card.
Despite the numerical advantage, Chelsea struggled to find gaps in a Fulham defence, that had conceded just three goals in six games, for much of the second period.
Lampard altered his front line again in game – Tammy Abraham joined Giroud, but that experiment lasted only a few minutes as Timo Werner replaced Giroud – and Chelsea kept knocking on the door as Abraham could only head unmarked into Areola’s hands, before Ziyech’s delicious cross evaded Abraham and Pulisic.
Fulham did break in spurts, and Mendy nearly handed them an opener on a plate as he rushed out unnecessarily to receive Azpilicueta’s back pass – he cleared weakly, but Cavaleiro saw his return shot blocked with Mendy out of his goal.
For all the chopping and changing in Chelsea’s front line, it was Mount, a regular in the starting XI, who gave Lampard’s side the breakthrough they had been desperate for.
After Ben Chilwell’s left-wing cross was only punched away by Areola, Mount controlled a low half volley from 15 yards into the bottom corner, just his second Premier League goal of the season.
Chelsea have scored 11 goals in the final 15 minutes of Premier League games this season, more than any other side.