Fulham midfielder Mark Pembridge scores his first goal for Fulham
Claudio Ranieri, clearly revelling in his nickname of The Tinkerman, took off his two best players in the second half of Chelsea's win over neighbours Fulham at Stamford Bridge and the home faithful can only hope he is saving them for the Champions League double-header with Arsenal.
With injury-plagued Damien Duff's goal proving decisive, Chelsea hung on to all three points in a miserable second period and clung to the coat-tails of the Gunners in the Premiership title race.
Now they have their latest chance to finally beat Arsene Wenger's team at Stamford Bridge in the first leg of the Champions League quarter finals on Wednesday and they could well need, on this form, the wing flair of dazzling Dane Jesper Gronkjaer who was also taken off against Fulham after an outstanding first half display.
But most of all they will need Duff, now back at full strength after a long injury lay-off, and 'rested' again from the 69th minute when Joe Cole took over.
Sylvain Legwinski and Luis Boa Morte were both booked for crude fouls as Fulham fought tooth and nail to test their more illustrious near-and-dear but played with only Barry Hayles up front for too long and lacked real ambition.
They barely tested Chelsea's third choice keeper Marco Ambrosio and looked as if they would soon buckle in the face of Chelsea's early power-show.
Fulham fans must have feared the worse when after six minutes the determined Eidur Gudjohnsen let fly from at least 25 yards and left Edwin van der Sar helpless with a fast rising left-foot drive.
The blond Icelander, now with 12 goals this term, hit another effort just as hard two minutes later when John Terry headed on Gronkjaer's cross following a mistake by Zat Knight but this one flew over the bar.
And for a spell it was the signal for Fulham to get their act together.
They somehow drew inspiration from Hayles' unselfish running and a Sean Davis long-shot that spiralled way too high.
And when Lampard fouled Davis just outside the area, Mark Pembridge stepped up to hit a powerful free kick from a central position which took a deflection off Gronkjaer in the wall and was enough to beat Ambrosio's flailing left arm as it sailed home for an 18th minute equaliser.
It was the first goal this season for Wales star Pembridge and despite the deflection, he is sure to claim it, especially considering he has had to endure yet another injury-bedevilled campaign.
Chelsea set about regaining their advantage but when Hernan Crespo played a fine ball in to set up Gudjohnsen, Ian Pearce launched into a superbly-timed tackle to save the day before blocking a dangerous Duff cross just a minute later.
|source: sporting life
Curiously, van der Sar seemed to give up all too easily when a Gronkjaer cross from the left flashed past him but there was nobody up on the far post to touch it home.
The keeper looked better on 27 minutes, going down well to block Duff's low, angled drive.
But before he could regain his balance, he had another shot - this time by Lampard - to deal with and he could only beat it out. Chelsea's luck was to see the loose ball cannon off a defender and straight to Duff who comfortably placed it into an unguarded corner of the net for 2-1.
They might have added to it before the break with the lively Gronkjaer going close several times and terrorising each Fulham flank in turn. Naturally Claudio Ranieri took him off for the second half.
The manager also removed Duff from the fray with 20 minutes to go but not before he colluded in at least three plausible opportunities to clinch the issue that should have been firmly in Chelsea's grasp long before.
But all fell to midfield partner Geremi who promptly missed them all, including the one he shovelled straight and lamely into van der Sar's arms from the Irishman's delightful through ball.
Lampard also blazed way over when another Duff set-up looked perfect for him but the winger, much missed during his injury break, had already done enough to prove he is a must against Arsenal in the next few weeks.
Chelsea: Ambrosio, Gallas, Desailly, Terry, Bridge, Gronkjaer (Parker 45), Geremi, Lampard, Duff (Cole 70), Crespo, Gudjohnsen.
Subs Not Used: Sullivan, Mutu, Huth.
Goals: Gudjohnsen 7, Duff 30.
Fulham: Van der Sar, Volz, Knight, Pearce, Bocanegra, Malbranque, Legwinski, Pembridge (John 62), Sean Davis, Boa Morte, Hayles (McBride 77).
Subs Not Used: Beasant, Djetou, Goma.
Booked: Legwinski(48,f), Boa Morte(66,f).
Goals: Pembridge 19.
Ref: N Barry (N Lincolnshire).