EPL: Essien scores the winner and gets sent off

Posted on by SoccerPunter

Michael Essien fired Chelsea to a 1-0 win over local rivals Fulham before being sent off in the final minute as the champions strengthened their hold on the top of the Premier League on Wednesday.

Essien headed home Salomon Kalou’s cross on the half hour but the Ghana midfielder ended the night on a low note when he was shown a straight red card for a stamp on Fulham striker Clint Dempsey.

The victory at Stamford Bridge was by no means comfortable for Carlo Ancelotti’s side, who were forced to withstand a late barrage from their west London neighbours, but the Blues are now four points clear of second-placed Manchester United.

Much of the pre-match build-up had centred around Chelsea striker Didier Drogba’s rapid recovery from malaria, which he had caught on an overseas trip early in October.

The Ivory Coast forward was deemed fit enough to start, despite only just recovering from the disease which had restricted him to the second half of last Sunday’s 2-0 loss at Liverpool.

He looked worryingly sluggish for the first hour, as he left most of the work to his Ivory Coast compatriot Kalou.

Fulham’s injury problems in defence were nothing as exotic as Drogba’s complaint, but they meant a first start for left-back Matthew Briggs, who three years ago became the Premier League’s youngest player at 16 years and 65 days.

Briggs was called into action barely two minutes into the game, when he failed to get the ball off Jon Obi Mikel, who crossed for Drogba only for the striker to be blocked by Brede Hangeland.

That mistake from the left-back aside, Fulham did their best to stick to the task of stopping Chelsea playing, while creating little themselves.

And on the rare occasions where they went on the attack, Dempsey was at the heart of it.

But as an unbeaten record at Stamford Bridge stretching back to last February would suggest, stopping Chelsea from carving out chances is difficult.

And it was to Fulham’s relief that Drogba still appears to be less than 100 per cent. On 26 minutes he dribbled the ball all the way to the byline, only to hook the ball straight to Hangeland.

Drogba was lying prone in the penalty area, having slipped over in a previous attack, when Kalou flicked an inch-perfect cross towards the far post, which Essien ran in to head home unchallenged in the 30th minute.

Kalou could have had one for himself two minutes before half time after Yuri Zhirkov had set him free, but he shot wide of the far post having sprinted clear.

And on 55 minutes Kalou repeated the same run into the box from the right but his shot was slowed by Mark Schwarzer’s legs, then Aaron Hughes was able to boot the ball clear just before it rolled over the line.

Hughes was Fulham’s rescuer once again on 65 minutes after Schwarzer had dived to keep out Drogba and Florent Malouda had pounced on the loose ball but had his shot blocked by the Northern Ireland defender.

Two minutes later Schwarzer did well to keep out Malouda’s close range effort then a 25-yard bullet from Mikel.

Fulham had three late chances; first Dempsey tried his luck from 25 yards on 72 minutes, substitute Zoltan Gera shot from a similar distance ten minutes later, but Petr Cech did well to keep both efforts out.

Then Dempsey’s overhead kick from just inside the area went just wide of the far post as Chelsea held on for the win – before Essien was given a straight red on the stroke of full time.

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