BY PAUL LAGAN at Craven Cottage
Fulham 1 v Chelsea 2
Gonzalo Higuain and Jorginho scored for the Blues as they overcame a gutsy Fulham to nab a close 2-1 win at Craven Cottage, which does not help the home side’s attempt to avoid relegation, but does push the Blues closer to a fourth-place spot in the Premier League.
Fulham are now 10 points away from safety while the Blues, with a game in hand could go fourth.
That match against Brighton has yet to be arranged.
Arsenal loanee Calum Chambers gave Fulham hope when he equalised but it was not enough as returning goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga produced a series of fine saves to thwart Fulham and in particular Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Ryan Sessegnon had a late goal disallowed as Fulham’s best player was adjudged to be just offside from close range.
Chelsea dominated the opening exchanges with Gonzalo Higuain going close on four minutes after a Eden Hazard cross into the Fulham penalty area saw the Argentina striker glance his headed effort inches wide of Sergio Rico’s right post.
Fulham countered well and Joe Bryan sent a low, right-footer past Kepa Arrizabalaga’s right post.
Kepa almost gifted Fulham a goal on 17 minutes when he misjudged a regulation catch, dropped it. And with Ryan Babel ready to tap-in, recovered quickly enough to snaffle the ball to his body.
Seconds later and the visitors were ahead. Willian on the right, passed to the overlapping Cesar Azpilicueta. The Spain right back crossed to in-running Higuain who smashed home a first time low volley past Rico.
It was the striker’s third goal for the Blues since joining, on loan from AC Milan in January.
A sublime , athletic save from Kepa on 27 minuted, justified his return to the side. He somehow managed to tip over a powerful Aleksandar Mitrovic volley for a corner.
But the home side equalised from the resultant corner kick, Calum Chambers was left alone at the far post to poke home past Kepa.
But the Blues responded in devastating fashion on 31minutes.
A quick break saw the Blues carve Fulham apart with Hazard given the simple task of teeing up Jorginho on the edge of the penalty area. The Brazil-born Italian slotted home a beauty of a curling right-footer that let Rico rooted to his spot.
There were no changes from either side at half time. the first chance from the restart fell to Hazard but his wreak short was easily held by Rico.
Mitrovic attempted to equalise in spectacular fashion on 60 minutes. But his edge of he area blaster zipped over Kepa’s crossbar.
The first sub station fell to the home side. With Kevin McDonald going off and Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa coming on, on 63 minutes.
With Ryan Sessegnon moved across field to the right, Fulham looked more purposeful in attack and started to push the visitors back.
Chelsea replaced booked Jorginho for Mateo Kovacic on 68 minutes.
Ryan Babel was next to leave the field for Fulham on 72 minutes, Floyd Ayite came on.
With the Blues under the cosh, Maurizio Sarri decided to end Hazard’s game, and brought on Pedro.
Ross Barkley was the Blues final substitution on 79 minutes – Ruben Loftus-Cheek entered the fray.
Fulham’s Tom Cairney was next to leave the pitch, Luciano Vietto came on.
Fulham should have equalised but Arrizabalaga somehow parried away a wonderful Mitrovic header with two minutes left on he clocks.
Sessegnon thought he had gained a last gasp equaliser but was millimetres offside as he slotted home from close range.
Teams: Chelsea, Arrizabalaga, Rudiger, Jorginho, Kante, Barkley, Higuain, Hazard, Willian, Christensen, Azpilicueta, Emerson
Sub: Caballero, Pedro, Loftus-Cheek, Kovacic, Giroud, Hudson-Odoi, Luiz
Fulham, Rico, Sessegnon, Odoi, Chambers, McDonald, Mitrovicv, Cairney, Babel, Ream, Nordtveit, Bryan
Subs: Fabri, Ayite, Vietcong, Le Marchand, Christie, Seri, Zambo Anguissa
Referee, G Scott