MASON MOUNT scored an important late goal to save Chelsea's season and ease the pressure on manager Frank Lampard.
The young England international has cruelly been nicknamed 'Lampard's Son' by disaffected Chelsea fans for his ever-present status in an underperforming side.
But the 22-year-old was both his club's best player and match winner as he settled the west London derby with 12 minutes to go against a resolute Fulham side that had played with ten men after having Antonee Robinson sent off just before half-time.
Lampard, on a run of four defeats from their previous six matches had seen his side sliding towards mid-table having been rated title challengers pre-Christmas. This victory takes them within a win of third place.
Lampard had ignored supporter clamour to give youth a chance in the form of Billy Gilmour and Callum Hudson Odoi and went for experience in his seven changes to the side that won in the FA Cup against Morecambe.
Proven big-match characters, such as Cesar Azpilicueta, Toni Rudiger, Jorginho and Olivier Giroud, all started while big-money summer signings Timo Werner and Kai Havertz watched on from the substitute's bench.
Fulham, on an impressive unbeaten run of five successive draws, needed a win to get out of the relegation zone, but Aleksandar Mitrovic failed a fitness test and Ivan Cavaleiro played as a makeshift target man.
On-loan Chelsea midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek was ineligible so was the only change from a midweek draw at Tottenham.
For all the changes. Fulham looked good. Their good early spell was punctuated by Robinson having a low shot blocked by Rudiger. They had started the better, more confident side, but Chelsea used their experience to play their way into the match and then had a spell in which they totally dominated and should have taken the lead.
It all kicked off when Hakim Ziyech had a low shot saved by Alphonse Areola as the Fulham keeper survived a hectic spell.
A poor Robinson clearance gifted Mason Mount a chance and he clipped a booming right foot shot full against the bar. Moments later and Areola saved at full stretch from a Rudiger header.
Fulham then had two key moments in which the match turned. First Ivan Cavaleiro was guilty of a poor 42nd-minute miss when he mishit from close range after great work from Robinson.
A minute later, with half-time looming, Fulham lost their best player when Robinson was rightly sent off for an equally reckless and needless flying tackle on Azpilicueta.
The VAR needed little time to review and support the instant red card decision by referee Peter Bankes while both managers had all of half-time to review their tactics with 45 minutes to play. Essentially, it reduced down to attack against defence as Fulham put every remaining player behind the ball.
Parker's white and black wall proved difficult for Lampard's all-blues to find any weaknesses in until just over an hour gone when Giroud found space and time to shoot.
Lampard reacted to that miss by sending on Tammy Abraham to support the Frenchman in attack and withdrew Jorginho from midfield.
They needed more invention, though and Werner and Hudson-Odoi replaced Giroud and Ziyech for the final 15 minutes.
The breakthrough came three minutes later when Areola flapped a Ben Chilwell cross straight to Mount, who drilled in a low right-foot shot past two Fulham defenders and a stranded goalkeeper.
Chelsea manager Frank Lampard, speaking to Sky Sports, admitted Scott Parker's side had made it difficult despite being a man short.
"Of course it feels good to get a win, it has not been easy with the league form recently and you have to break the duck. Fulham made it difficult. We started the game well, controlled a lot of the ball, it is not easy against 10 men. We kept going and we got what we deserved tonight.
"It is a pressure to move the ball, hit the sides, open it up, make them run and create chances. We were doing that. Just because of the current form it is a bit harder, the confidence is not quite there. But we found it so I'm really pleased.
"I trust the quality of the players. There was a feeling we would get a goal, because the pressure was constant. It was about staying patient with our passing and I think we did."
On matchwinner Mason Mount, Lampard said: "Mason was in a deeper role but can still arrive. He needs to score more goals, he knows that, but his quality and attitude is brilliant."
Mount didn't quite manage to avoid a group celebration after the winning goal, though jubilation was relatively restrained.
"It's the world we live in, you have to be careful about that. But it's the passion of the game, you don't want to take away too much of that."
Areola 6, Aina 7 (Bryan 83), Andersen 6, Adarabioyo 6, Tete 7, De Cordova-Reid 6 (Kamara 83), Reed 6, Anguissa 7, Robinson 5, Lookman 6, Cavaleiro 7 (Onomah 79).
Rodak, Hector, Odoi, Kebano, Ream.
Mendy 5, Rudiger 6, Silva 6, Chilwell 7, Azpilicueta 7, Jorginho 5 (Abraham 65), Kovacic 6, Ziyech 5 (Hudson-Odoi 75), Mount 7, Pulisic 5, Giroud 5 (Werner 75).
Arrizabalaga, Zouma, Gilmour, James, Havertz, Emerson.
Ref: Peter Bankes 7