By Kieran Lovelock
Chelsea regained momentum at the top of the Premier League with a 1-0 win over West London rivals Fulham thanks to a first half headed goal from the returning Michael Essien.
The blues dominated their neighbors in the opening exchanges despite Didier Drogba being diagnosed with malaria just 48 hours earlier and it seemed like only a matter of time before they would score.
When the goal came it was typical Chelsea and a sign of just what Essien can bring to their side. On thirty minutes the tricky Salomon Kalou swung in a cross from the left for Essien to meet powerfully into the corner to leave Fulham keeper Mark Schwarzer with no chance.
As half time loomed Chelsea had chances to go further ahead but managed to waste them with Kalou and strike partner Florent Malouda being the main culprits.
After the break Chelsea continued to be their normal industrious selves and the match had an air of predictability about it given that Fulham had not won at Stamford Bridge since 1964.
However Fulham took the game to Chelsea a bit more in the second half with Clint Dempsey testing Petr Cech from long range. Fulham were also able to welcome back 8 million signing Andy Johnson as the former Everton man came on as second half substitute to bring some more potency to their performance. On this basis however it is clear that Fulham desperately miss centre forward Bobby Zamora.
But the game was not without controversy. There is no doubt that Chelsea are not the same team when Essien is out, as their game against Liverpool this past weekend proved, but they will have to be without him for another three matches after the Ghanaian was sent off for a two footed tackle on Dempsey in the final seconds of the game.
It was rash and unnecessary from Essien who has come to symbolize the industriousness for which Chelsea are renowned. However now they will have to carry on without him as they attempt to win the title for the second year in a row.
Chelsea (4-3-3); Cech; Ivanovic, Terry, Bosingwa (Ferreria 88), Cole; Zhirkov, Essien, Mikel; Malouda (Ramires 77), Drogba, Kalou (Sturridge 85)
Fulham (4-5-1): Schwarzer; Kelly, Hangeland, Hughes, Briggs (Gera 79); Murphy, Duff, Etuhu (Johnson 61), Dempsey, Davies; Dembele
Star Man: Michael Essien