Mason Mount scored a late winner as Chelsea scraped to an unimpressive 1-0 win at a struggling Fulham side that played half the match a man light.
Frank Lampard's side went into the match without a win in any of their three previous Premier League games, a run that had seen their coach come under increased pressure. Although they were able to end that streak, the performance was by no means vintage.
Chelsea had the better of the first half but did not begin to exert genuine control until after Antonee Robinson's dismissal in the 44th minute left the Blues with a numerical advantage.
They had great difficulty making the most of that sending off, but eventually Mount struck 12 minutes from time to move Chelsea back up to seventh in the table.
11 - Mason Mount's opener was the 11th goal Chelsea have scored in the final 15 minutes of Premier League matches this season; no side has netted more in this time period in the competition in 2020-21 (level with Leicester City). Breakthrough. pic.twitter.com/WhAgFGwH6B— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 16, 2021
Chelsea briefly appeared to find their groove when they created a flurry of chances in quick succession before the half-hour mark of the contest.
Alphonse Areola had to be alert twice, saving from Olivier Giroud and Antonio Rudiger either side of Mount striking the crossbar during what was a promising three-minute spell from the visitors.
While that was not the start of a prolonged onslaught, Chelsea's chances were helped just before half-time when Robinson was shown a straight red for a wild tackle on Cesar Azpilicueta that completely missed the ball and sent the Spaniard flying.
Despite having an extra man, Chelsea's chance creation frequency did not appear to increase, two of their better opportunities ultimately resulting in offside calls.
A defensive calamity just past the hour then almost saw Chelsea fall behind, as Azpilicueta's poor pass forced Edouard Mendy to stretch and nudge the ball to Ivan Cavaleiro, but luckily Thiago Silva was in attendance to block his shot in front of an empty goal.
Chelsea finally found a way through in the latter stages, Mount drilling a volley low past Areola after the Frenchman had diverted a left-wing cross right to him.
What does it mean? Chelsea leave it late again
A four-game winless run ahead of a testing clash with Leicester City at the King Power Stadium would have been far from ideal for Lampard, particularly given the uncertainty surrounding his future.
Mount's goal at the end at least means the heat has not been turned up even higher, though he will surely be bemused about how long it took them to find a way through – they had 21 shots but only six were on target.
The winner was their 11th goal scored inside the final 15 minutes of games this term, more than anyone else in the top flight. However, whether that is a sign of character or desperation is one for Lampard to work out.
Mount sets the standard
His winning goal was just reward for a fine performance from Mount, who was head and shoulders above anyone else on the pitch. The England international made seven key passes over the course of the 90 minutes, a figure bettered only three times in a single match this term.
Chelsea's defence aside, his 97 touches of the ball were more than anyone and 91 per cent of his attempted passes were accurate, a remarkable figure considering how many chances he created.
Fulham rue Robinson's red
While some may suggest Robinson's sending off was dubious, there is little denying he was out of control as he went hurtling into Azpilicueta.
Fulham actually responded quite well to his dismissal, holding out impressively for much of the second half, but one has to assume they would have had an event better chance of getting something from the game with 11 men on the pitch.
19 - Fulham remain winless in their last 19 Premier League London derby matches (D2 L17) since a 2-1 win over West Ham in January 2014. Punished. pic.twitter.com/YWWB3WK9wX— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 16, 2021
Key Opta facts
- This was Chelsea's fourth away clean sheet of the season - they managed just one last term.
- Fulham remain winless in their last 19 Premier League London derby matches (D2 L17), since a 2-1 triumph over West Ham in January 2014.
- Chelsea have lost just one of their 29 league meetings with Fulham (W18 D10), remaining unbeaten in their last 19 against them in the competition.
- The Blues had 21 shots against Fulham, only managing more against other promoted sides West Brom (22) and Leeds (23) in league games this season.
- Antonee Robinson became the eighth different player from the United States to be sent off in the Premier League, with Fulham the first side to have two American players see red (Carlos Bocanegra).
Life does not get much easier for Fulham in midweek as they host Manchester United on Wednesday, while Chelsea face the tricky task of going to Leicester the day before.