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Last Updated: Saturday, 20 December, 2003, 16:54 GMT
Crespo floors Fulham
Fulham 0-1 Chelsea

Chelsea striker Hernan Crespo
Hernan Crespo's bullet header returned Chelsea to winning ways as Claudio Ranieri's side narrowly beat Fulham in a pulsating London derby.

The Argentine rose above Andy Melville to meet Wayne Bridge's cross and power his header past Edwin van der Sar.

Fulham's goalkeeper had a superb game as did his opposite number Carlo Cudicini.

Van der Sar made excellent saves to thwart John Terry and Frank Lampard as did Cudicini to deny Melville.

Cudicini was quickly into action, saving from Louis Saha's header after two minutes, then seized Melville's flicked header just below his crossbar.

Fulham's Dutch goalkeeper proved just as difficult to beat, his first job to deny Damien Duff's 20-yard effort.

Just past the half-hour Chelsea twice went close in a minute.

First Steed Malbranque's clearance rebounded off Glen Johnson and Jon Harley headed over his crossbar as the ball threatened to bounce in.

Then Crespo cleverly diverted a near-post corner back to the penalty spot and John Terry's strike was smartly blocked by Van der Sar.

The opening-half also saw both teams lose key players.

Duff had to be replaced by Joe Cole early on after he was stretchered off clutching his right shoulder following Sean Davis' challenge, while just before the interval Davis limped off with a thigh injury.

Cole had an immediate impact, feeding Adrian Mutu who tested Van der Sar's with an angled drive.

Cudicini and Van der Sar proved equally inspired after the restart.

Chelsea fashioned a great opening six minutes after the break when Cole skipped away from a challenge and slipped a fine pass in behind Melville.

5 mins: Edwin van der Sar makes a superb save from Damien Duff's shot
8 mins: Duff's shoulder injury sees him replaced by Joe Cole
62 mins: Hernan Crespo heads home to win the game

Crespo raced onto it and squared for Lampard - but the midfielder scuffed his shot and Van der Sar saved well at the foot of his left-hand post.

But the Dutchman was powerless to prevent the visitors seizing the lead in the 61st minute.

Bridge fired over a cross from the left, and Crespo towered above Melville and thumped the header into the top corner.

Fulham were close to an equaliser four minutes later when Luis Boa Morte's shot beat Cudicini's dive - but the ball cannoned back into the goalkeeper's grasp off his boot.

With Arsenal drawing at Bolton, Chelsea's win put them level on points with Arsene Wenger's side.

Just as importantly the victory prevented Chelsea from slipping to a third consecutive defeat after last weekend's home loss to Bolton and their midweek Carling Cup exit to Aston Villa.

Fulham: Van der Sar, Volz, Melville, Knight, Harley (Hayles 69), Boa Morte, Clark, Legwinski, Malbranque, Sean Davis (Djetou 37), Saha.
Subs Not Used: Crossley, Sava, Goma.

Booked: Saha, Clark.

Chelsea: Cudicini, Johnson, Desailly, Terry, Bridge, Gronkjaer, Makelele, Lampard, Duff (Cole 8), Crespo (Gallas 89), Mutu, Cole (Geremi 84).
Subs Not Used: Sullivan, Melchiot.

Booked: Cole, Johnson, Gronkjaer.

Attendance: 18,244.

Referee: M Riley (W Yorkshire).

BBC Five Live's David Oates
"This was hardly Chelsea's most fluent performance"

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