Crespo spares Blues' blushes
By James Pearson. Last Updated: January 1, 1970 1:00am
Chelsea marched on at the summit of The Premiership following a thrilling, but uncomfortable, 3-2 success over Fulham at Stamford Bridge.
The points looked a formality when Frank Lampard's deflected goal put the home side two-up after William Gallas broke the deadlock early on.
However, Chris Coleman's side fought back and the impressive Brian McBride pulled one back before Heidar Helguson's second half penalty squared up the contest.
There was still time for a winner and Hernan Crespo produced a top-drawer finish after 75 minutes to give The Blues the points from Joe Cole's pin-point cross.
The league leaders began positively and it took just three minutes for Jose Mourinho's side to seize an early advantage at Stamford Bridge.
Lampard's right-sided corner was flicked on by Robert Huth for Gallas who arrived right on time to guide the German defender's header past Mark Crossley from close range.
Helguson was close to levelling matters shortly after, but keeper Petr Cech was quick off his line after McBride out-jumped John Terry outside the area.
Chris Coleman's side continued to probe at their more illustrious counterparts, although it was the home side who extended their advantage.
Lampard, an ever-willing shooter, tried his luck from outside the box and his fierce drive clipped Sylvain Legwinski and flew past Crossley's outstretched hand.
However, just five minutes later it was game on again when a rare Cech mistake gifted McBride the chance to pull one back for the visitors.
Luis Boa Morte's free-kick was too hot to handle for the Czech Republic ace and he allowed the ball to spill through his hands to the grateful McBride.
Buoyed on by getting back into the match, the chances continued to come for Fulham with McBride trying a volley before Tomasz Radzinski fired wide from the edge of the box.
Eidur Gudjohnsen replaced the disappointing Shaun Wright-Phillips at half time and the Iceland international had a shot superbly saved by Crossley moments after the restart.
Crespo thought Chelsea had a penalty when Zat Knight appeared to handle the ball near the by-line, although official Graham Poll waved away the protests.
Just moments after McBride fluffed a chance to level matters, the visitors were awarded the perfect opportunity to equalise from the penalty spot.
McBride was bundled over in the area by Cole before Helguson coolly rolled the ball past Cech who dived the wrong way.
The game was suddenly very open and Lampard thought he had restored Chelsea's lead when he tapped home from close range, but the effort was ruled out for offside.
The chances continued to flow for the home side and Crossley had to be on his toes to claw out Crespo's goalbound header from just a few yards out.
Just seconds after Collins John almost fired Fulham ahead, the game was settled when Crespo superbly guided home past substitute keeper Tony Warner following good work by Cole.
Fulham pressed for what would have been a deserved leveller, but Chelsea held out to claim their 16th league win of the season from 18 games.
Click here for Chelsea v Fulham player ratings.
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