Essien (left) scored and saw red on his return to the Chelsea side following injury
By Phil Dawkes
Michael Essien scored and was later sent off as Chelsea extended their lead at the top of the Premier League with a win over west London rivals Fulham.
Essien powerfully headed home the only goal from a Salomon Kalou left-wing cross during the first half.
The home side dominated after this and but for wasteful finishing would have clinched victory with ease.
They were forced to repel late pressure and finished with 10 men after Essien's two-footed tackle on Clint Dempsey.
It was a deserved straight dismissal, but a sour ending to a game in which the Ghanaian midfielder had earlier demonstrated the qualities Chelsea so badly missed during their 2-0 defeat by Liverpool on Sunday.
Essien's red card also took the shine off a narrow but deserved win that ensures the Blues increased their lead over Manchester United to four points following a goalless draw in the Manchester derby.
Ancelotti questions Essien red card
Having not won at Chelsea in the top flight since 1964 and winless away from home in the league in 15 months, the worst thing that could have happened to Fulham's hopes here was Fernando Torres' unanswered brace against the Blues on Sunday.
Already sporting the daunting record of 15 wins in their last 16 home games, the champions have also never lost back-to-back Premier League matches under boss Carlo Ancelotti and this record rarely looked under threat.
The Blues were not brilliant, but they did not need to be to overcome their limited local rivals, who are now only two points above the relegation places.
A casual Chelsea and frugal Fulham made for a cagey first 25 minutes with matching 30-yard drives at either end from the visitors young full-back Matthew Briggs and home midfielder Jon Mikel Obi the only goalbound efforts, both of which were comfortably saved.
However, in that time, Essien had already demonstrated his industrious influence and he further underlined his importance to the Chelsea cause by giving them the lead on the half hour.
Kalou collected the ball on the left and delivered an inswinging cross that was headed home powerfully by the unmarked Ghanaian.
The goal woke Chelsea up and but for some serial wastefulness from Kalou they would have carried a bigger advantage into the break.
In a two-minute spell the Ivorian missed two superb chances: the first of which he fluffed after being picked out in the box by Florent Malouda and the second he flashed inches past the far post after initially holding off Briggs as he charged into the box.
Then, in the final minute of the half, Kalou was prevented from applying a telling touch to Malouda's low cross to the back post by a strong challenge from Briggs.
Kalou had the first effort of the second half when he danced past two challenges into the box, but this time the forward lacked luck as opposed to composure when Mark Schwarzer's foot slowed his goalbound shot before Aaron Hughes hammered clear.
Minutes later, Hughes was on hand again to block a powerful drive by Didier Drogba - who was selected despite being diagnosed with malaria this week, but was clearly off the pace.
Hughes unconcerned by Fulham form
The waves of home attacks continued, but somehow Fulham kept their heads narrowly above water.
From a corner, Schwarzer saved superbly point blank from Malouda before then palming away Mikel's 30-yard drive. The keeper would have been powerless to deny Essien from close range after he was found by Branislav Ivanovic's cross in the third phase of the same attack, but the Ghanaian somehow poked wide.
Fulham almost made the Blues pay late on as both Dempsey and substitute Zoltan Gera drew good saves from Petr Cech with well-struck long-range shots.
With only seconds to spare, Essien made his second big impression of the evening. Unfortunately, it was on Dempsey's ankle as he jumped with both feet into a 50/50 tackle, prompting Martin Atkinson's penultimate decision to be to show him a straight red seconds prior to blowing for full-time.
90:00+5:20 The game is over, as the referee blows his whistle.
90:00+3:45 Free kick taken by Danny Murphy.
90:00+3:45 Sent off Red card for Michael Essien.
90:00+3:39 Foul by Michael Essien on Clinton Dempsey, free kick awarded.
90:00+2:50 Simon Davies challenges Mikel unfairly and gives away a free kick. Petr Cech takes the free kick.
90:00+0:15 Simon Davies crosses the ball, clearance by John Terry.
89:37 Stephen Kelly crosses the ball, Branislav Ivanovic manages to make a clearance.
87:48 Substitution Paulo Ferreira joins the action as a substitute, replacing Jose Bosingwa.
86:56 Free kick awarded for a foul by Didier Drogba on Damien Duff. Direct free kick taken by Mark Schwarzer.
84:39 Substitution Daniel Sturridge is brought on as a substitute for Salomon Kalou.
82:57 Shot from just outside the area by Clinton Dempsey misses to the left of the target.
81:39 Shot by Zoltan Gera. Save made by Petr Cech. Mikel challenges Simon Davies unfairly and gives away a free kick. Damien Duff
crosses the ball in from the free kick, Didier Drogba makes a clearance.
79:25 Salomon Kalou fouled by Damien Duff, the ref awards a free kick. Didier Drogba has an effort direct from the free kick, save
made by Mark Schwarzer.
78:18 Substitution Matthew Briggs leaves the field to be replaced by Zoltan Gera.
78:18 Effort from inside the area by Didier Drogba misses to the left of the goal.
76:42 Substitution Ramires joins the action as a substitute, replacing Florent Malouda.
76:42 Michael Essien has an effort at goal from just outside the box which goes wide of the left-hand upright.
75:31 Aaron Hughes restarts play with the free kick.
75:31 Booking Ashley Cole is booked.
75:24 Free kick awarded for a foul by Ashley Cole on Damien Duff.
72:35 Brede Hangeland gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Salomon Kalou. Mikel takes the direct free kick.
71:49 Effort from 25 yards by Clinton Dempsey. Petr Cech makes a brilliant save. Inswinging corner taken by Simon Davies from the
left by-line, Petr Cech makes a save.
70:19 Moussa Dembele challenges Mikel unfairly and gives away a free kick. Michael Essien restarts play with the free kick.
69:15 John Terry gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Damien Duff. Free kick crossed left-footed by Damien Duff, Brede
Hangeland gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Didier Drogba. Petr Cech takes the direct free kick.
67:26 Yury Zhirkov takes the outswinging corner, Florent Malouda takes a shot. Mark Schwarzer makes a save. Shot by Mikel. Mark
Schwarzer makes a brilliant save. Salomon Kalou crosses the ball, Shot by Michael Essien from deep inside the penalty area
misses to the right of the goal.
65:34 Didier Drogba takes a shot. Clearance by Aaron Hughes.
64:56 Shot from just outside the box by Michael Essien goes over the target.
63:08 The ball is delivered by Didier Drogba, comfortable save by Mark Schwarzer.
60:52 Substitution Andrew Johnson is brought on as a substitute for Dickson Etuhu.
58:08 Free kick awarded for a foul by Simon Davies on Michael Essien. Direct free kick taken by Yury Zhirkov.
57:57 The ball is sent over by Stephen Kelly, John Terry manages to make a clearance.
56:11 Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Jose Bosingwa by Danny Murphy. Direct free kick taken by Mikel.
55:30 Didier Drogba concedes a free kick for a foul on Brede Hangeland. Direct free kick taken by Mark Schwarzer.
54:55 Salomon Kalou takes a shot. Mark Schwarzer makes a save.
54:31 The ball is swung over by Yury Zhirkov, Brede Hangeland makes a clearance.
53:26 The referee blows for offside. Indirect free kick taken by Petr Cech.
52:38 The offside flag is raised against Clinton Dempsey. Petr Cech takes the indirect free kick.
51:51 Foul by Jose Bosingwa on Matthew Briggs, free kick awarded. Free kick crossed right-footed by Danny Murphy from left wing,
Michael Essien manages to make a clearance.
49:32 Direct free kick taken by Brede Hangeland.
49:32 Booking Michael Essien booked for unsporting behaviour.
49:28 Michael Essien challenges Clinton Dempsey unfairly and gives away a free kick.
48:06 Damien Duff sends in a cross, Petr Cech makes a comfortable save.
46:01 Clinton Dempsey gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Mikel. Jose Bosingwa takes the direct free kick.
45:01 The second half begins.
45:00+1:17 The match has reached half-time.
44:49 Florent Malouda produces a cross, Matthew Briggs makes a clearance.
44:22 Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Florent Malouda by Stephen Kelly. Direct free kick taken by Florent Malouda.
43:38 Effort from outside the penalty box by Jose Bosingwa goes wide left of the goal.
42:38 Damien Duff delivers the ball, blocked by Branislav Ivanovic. Outswinging corner taken by Damien Duff, clearance made by Didier
41:26 Salomon Kalou has an effort at goal from close in which goes wide of the left-hand upright.
40:25 Florent Malouda crosses the ball, Salomon Kalou produces a left-footed shot from the edge of the box and misses to the left
of the goal.
39:58 Florent Malouda takes a shot. Comfortable save by Mark Schwarzer.
35:22 Corner taken by Damien Duff from the left by-line, Didier Drogba makes a clearance. The ball is sent over by Damien Duff,
Dickson Etuhu takes a shot. Clearance made by Michael Essien. Simon Davies decides to take the corner short.
34:09 Dickson Etuhu gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on John Terry. Free kick taken by Michael Essien.
33:35 Jose Bosingwa challenges Matthew Briggs unfairly and gives away a free kick. Free kick taken by Mark Schwarzer.
32:32 Simon Davies challenges Yury Zhirkov unfairly and gives away a free kick. John Terry takes the direct free kick.
29:39 The assist for the goal came from Salomon Kalou.
29:39 GOAL - Michael Essien:Chelsea 1 - 0 Fulham Michael Essien scores a headed goal from inside the penalty area. Chelsea 1-0 Fulham.
27:52 Matthew Briggs challenges Salomon Kalou unfairly and gives away a free kick. Didier Drogba has an effort direct from the free
kick, save by Mark Schwarzer. Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Michael Essien by Damien Duff. Mikel crosses the
ball from the free kick right-footed from right wing, clearance made by Clinton Dempsey.
26:20 Aaron Hughes fouled by Didier Drogba, the ref awards a free kick. Free kick taken by Mark Schwarzer.
25:20 Mikel fouled by Clinton Dempsey, the ref awards a free kick. Jose Bosingwa takes the direct free kick.
24:13 Didier Drogba takes a shot. Comfortable save by Mark Schwarzer.
23:21 Jose Bosingwa sends in a cross, clearance made by Simon Davies.
21:48 Mikel takes a shot. Save by Mark Schwarzer.
21:21 Matthew Briggs takes a shot. Save made by Petr Cech.
19:41 Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Clinton Dempsey by John Terry. The free kick is delivered right-footed by Danny
Murphy from right channel, John Terry manages to make a clearance.
18:58 The ball is delivered by Damien Duff, Ashley Cole manages to make a clearance.
17:36 Centre by Ashley Cole, Aaron Hughes manages to make a clearance.
16:12 Outswinging corner taken from the left by-line by Yury Zhirkov, John Terry takes a shot. The ball is sent over by Salomon
Kalou, comfortable save by Mark Schwarzer.
14:18 The ball is delivered by Didier Drogba, clearance made by Aaron Hughes. Michael Essien crosses the ball, clearance by Simon
12:25 Mikel gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Dickson Etuhu. Direct free kick taken by Danny Murphy.
10:21 Jose Bosingwa concedes a free kick for a foul on Moussa Dembele. Dickson Etuhu restarts play with the free kick.
8:20 The official flags Didier Drogba offside. Mark Schwarzer takes the free kick.
7:22 The referee blows for offside. Mark Schwarzer takes the indirect free kick.
6:43 John Terry fouled by Moussa Dembele, the ref awards a free kick. Free kick taken by Petr Cech.
3:50 Unfair challenge on Danny Murphy by Yury Zhirkov results in a free kick. Free kick taken by Danny Murphy.
2:28 Michael Essien crosses the ball. The ball is sent over by Salomon Kalou, clearance made by Aaron Hughes. Michael Essien takes
a shot. Blocked by Dickson Etuhu. Corner taken left-footed by Florent Malouda to the near post, Aaron Hughes manages to make
a clearance. Florent Malouda takes the inswinging corner, clearance made by Brede Hangeland.
0:00 The referee gets the match started.
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