LONDON, England -- Hernan Crespo scored the winning goal as Premiership champions Chelsea overcame west London neighbors Fulham 3-2 on Monday to keep up their relentless pace at the top
|William Gallas scored after three minutes to put Chelsea on the way to a hard-won victory.|
It was Chelsea's six straight win but spirited Fulham gave them a scare by coming back from two goals down to level by halftime.
Manchester United later accounted for West Bromwich Albion 3-0 to stay nine points behind Chelsea after 18 games.
For a while United might have been encouraged that they could cut the gap, but Argentine striker Crespo struck in the 74th minute after Fulham had unluckily lost goalkeeper Mark Crossley to injury.
Chelsea, who had not conceded a league goal since their 1-0 defeat by United in November, were 2-0 up at Stamford Bridge inside 25 minutes thanks to William Gallas after just three minutes and Frank Lampard (24).
But before the break Fulham pulled a goal back through United States striker Brian McBride before a 56th minute penalty from Heidar Helguson made it 2-2.
England midfielder Joe Cole, who had conceded the penalty in an otherwise outstanding display, made amends with a superb cross for Crespo to volley the winner.
Cole was lavished with praise by manager Jose Mourinho. "When I came to Chelsea nobody knew his best position - not even Joe. We only know that he's a great attacking player but he wasn't a winger or a midfielder or strong enough to defend in midfield.
"His passing wasn't good enough and he was selfish. We knew he had the talent but didn't know what to do with him. Now there is no doubt he is best on the right or the left (not the middle)."
Manchester United, with first-half goals from the revitalized Paul Scholes and Rio Ferdinand, later maintained their challenge to Chelsea with a comfortable victory over West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford.
Albion's Paul Robinson had performed an heroic man-marking job on England international Wayne Rooney for the opening 34 minutes of the contest, but within a minute of his departure with a nasty head injury United were in front as Scholes, goalless until the start of this month, hit his third of the season.
Deep into first half injury-time, Ferdinand, who scored his first United goal in the recent league victory over Wigan, headed his second goal in three games and the contest was effectively over.
Ruud van Nistelrooy completed a routine afternoon at the office for his side when he headed in his 16th goal of the season just after the hour.
Arsenal, who started the day 20 points behind Chelsea, won 1-0 away to London rivals Charlton to move up into sixth place.
Jose Antonio Reyes scored the winner in the 58th minute as the Addicks suffered their seventh defeat in eight league matches.
To make matters worse for The Valley faithful, midfielder Danny Murphy was sent off in the second half for a second bookable offence.
In the day's other early kick-off match Tottenham maintained their challenge for a Champions League place with a 2-0 win at home to second-bottom Birmingham City.
Robbie Keane's 58th minute penalty sent Spurs on their way at White Hart Lane before Jermain Defoe added a second in the final minute.
Birmingham midfielder Muzzy Izzet was sent off after collecting his second yellow card in the 65th minute.
They were briefly in third place in the standings until Liverpool's 2-0 victory over Newcastle in a later kick off saw them leapfrog Spurs on goal difference