Essien goal enough for Blues
Michael Essien's first-half header was enough to give 10-man Chelsea a 1-0 victory over west London rivals Fulham and keep them top of the Barclays Premier League table.
Florent Malouda's pinpoint cross into the six-yard box was met firmly by the Ghanaian midfielder who planted the ball into the bottom corner.
Salomon Kalou wasted three gilt-edged chances to increase Chelsea's lead and the leaders had goalkeeper Petr Cech to thank late on when he tipped Clint Dempsey's 25-yard shot over the bar before Essien was sent off in the final minute of injury time for a lunge on Dempsey.
Didier Drogba tested Mark Schwarzer with an angled 30-yard free-kick before Chelsea broke the deadlock on the half-hour when Kalou's cross was headed down and into the net by Essien.
Five minutes before half-time Malouda brought a fine save from Schwarzer and then Kalou was just a foot wide.
Chelsea should have added a second in the 55th minute Kalou when waltzed through the Fulham defence only to see his shot half-saved. That did enough to take the pace off the ball and, as it rolled towards the net, Aaron Hughes ran back to clear.
Malouda then nicked the ball off the toes of Schwarzer but Drogba's shot was cleared by Matthew Briggs.
Chelsea then had three successive chances to score. First Malouda's shot was saved by Schwarzer and then John Obi Mikel's shot on the rebound was again punched clear. Finally, Branislav Ivanovic crossed for Hughes to clear as Drogba looked to score.
Zoltan Gera was unlucky not to level the scores in the 82nd minute when his 20-yard volley had to be punched clear by Cech.
And Chelsea's evening was marred by a straight red for Essien for a two-footed lunge on Dempsey in the final minute.