Chelsea beat their west London neighbours Fulham 1-0 on Saturday as a penalty by top scorer Cole Palmer earned the Blues their third Premier League win in a row, even if coach Mauricio Pochettino’s men laboured in front of goal once again.
Palmer sent Bernd Leno the wrong way with his spot kick in the dying moments of the first half after Raheem Sterling was brought down by Issa Diop’s trailing foot.
It was Palmer’s ninth league goal – two more than the Blues’ top scorer over the entirety of last season – since joining from Manchester City as a last-minute summer signing and quickly establishing himself as Chelsea’s most dangerous player.
He was criticised for missing several chances in Chelsea’s 1-0 League Cup semi-final first leg defeat against Middlesbrough in midweek.
“After the game I was disappointed like anyone would be missing that many chances,” Palmer told broadcaster TNT Sports. “You have those games and I’ve put it behind me and scored.”
Fulham’s best chance for an equaliser fell to Raul Jimenez whose shot forced Djordje Petrovic into a one-handed save in the 73rd minute. Petrovic had also denied Harry Wilson in the first half as the visitors tried to catch their hosts on the break.
Chelsea captain Conor Gallagher smacked the post with a shot from the outside of his boot in the 83rd minute but the final statistics showed the Blues had only three shots on target all game, a reminder of their woes in front of goal.
Armando Broja, only recently back in the side after an injury in the previous campaign, powered a header from an Enzo Fernandez cross just wide of the post in the 21st minute but was largely snuffed out by Fulham’s defence.
With Nicolas Jackson on duty for Senegal at the Africa Cup of Nations and Christopher Nkunku injured again, Pochettino will need to find a way back to scoring in time for Middlesbrough’s visit for the second leg of the League Cup semi-final on Jan. 23.
One of the biggest cheers of the afternoon went up when Ben Chilwell came off Chelsea’s bench, marking the England defender’s return from injury and potentially solving the Blue’s left-back problem which centre half Levi Colwill has struggled to fix.
The win pushed Chelsea up two places in the league table to eighth, above Manchester United and Newcastle United who both have a game in hand.
Fulham, who have now lost five away games in the league in a row, remained 13th, eight points clear of the relegation zone.
Coach Marco Silva said Chelsea defender Malo Gusto should have been sent off for a foul on Willian in the first half.
“We have to talk about the red card for Gusto, it was clear. It is hard to see how things aren’t consistent at the level that we’re at,” he told TNT.