Mason Mount's late strike gave Chelsea just a second Premier League win in seven games as they beat 10-man Fulham 1-0 at Craven Cottage to ease the pressure on boss Frank Lampard.
Both sides had chances in the first half as Mount struck the bar and Ivan Cavaleiro fluffed a clear opening for Fulham, but the game's complexion changed just before half-time when Antonee Robinson was dismissed for a high challenge on Cesar Azpilicueta (44).
Chelsea huffed and puffed in the second half, but were made to wait for the winner as man of the match Mount's controlled half volley found the net from inside the box after Alphonse Areola's weak punch clear from a cross (78).
Sub Timo Werner should have wrapped the win up late on, turning wide when through on goal, but the victory means Chelsea move up to seventh, seven points off leaders Manchester United, but having played a game more, while Fulham stay 18th, four points from safety.
Fulham: Areola (5), Tete (6), Aina (6), Andersen (6), Adarabioyo (7), Robinson (4), Reed (6), Anguissa (6), Dercordova-Reid (6), Lookman (7), Cavaleiro (6)
Subs: Abraham (6), Werner (5), Hudson-Odoi (5)
Chelsea: Mendy (5), Azpilicueta (6), Thiago Silva (7), Rudiger (7), Chilwell (6), Jorginho (6), Kovacic (6), Mount (8), Ziyech (6), Pulisic (5), Giroud (5)
Subs: Onomah (NA), Kamara (NA), Bryan (NA)
Man of the match: Mason Mount
How Chelsea secured much-needed win
Chelsea started with a 13th variation of their front three in just 18 Premier League games - this time Olivier Giroud, Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech - but they failed to break Fulham down in the first half despite a period of dominance.
Ziyech forced Areola into a decent save with a low drive from the edge of the area, Mount hit the bar as Joachim Andersen's poor header clear found him on the right of the box and Areola pushed away Antonio Rudiger's header from a corner, but Fulham's back five survived the peppering and kept Giroud relatively quiet.
- How the teams lined up | Match stats
- Get Sky Sports | Get a Sky Sports Pass
- Live football on Sky Sports
The hosts arguably had the best chance of the first half as Robinson and Ademola Lookman combined well on the left; Robinson squared for Kenny Tete, who then squared for Cavaleiro, but he could not compose himself as he miscued an effort over the bar with just Edouard Mendy to beat from 10 yards.
Robinson and Lookman had been winning the battle with Azpilicueta until the closing stages of the first half, but that battle ended in earnest as the Fulham left-back piled in high on the Chelsea skipper, catching him high with his follow through to earn a straight red card.
Despite the numerical advantage, Chelsea struggled to find gaps in a Fulham defence, that had conceded just three goals in six games, for much of the second period.
Lampard altered his front line again in game - Tammy Abraham joined Giroud, but that experiment lasted only a few minutes as Timo Werner replaced Giroud - and Chelsea kept knocking on the door as Abraham could only head unmarked into Areola's hands, before Ziyech's delicious cross evaded Abraham and Pulisic.
Fulham did break in spurts, and Mendy nearly handed them an opener on a plate as he rushed out unnecessarily to receive Azpilicueta's back pass - he cleared weakly, but Cavaleiro saw his return shot blocked with Mendy out of his goal.
For all the chopping and changing in Chelsea's front line, it was Mount, a regular in the starting XI, who gave Lampard's side the breakthrough they had been desperate for.
After Ben Chilwell's left-wing cross was only punched away by Areola, Mount controlled a low half volley from 15 yards into the bottom corner, just his second Premier League goal of the season.
Chelsea have scored 11 goals in the final 15 minutes of Premier League games this season, more than any other side.
Fulham made one change from the 1-1 draw at Spurs as Ademola Lookman replaced the ineligible Ruben Loftus-Cheek. They could only name eight subs at Craven Cottage, with Aleksandar Mitrovic not fit enough for the bench.
Chelsea made three changes from the side that lost 3-1 against Manchester City nearly a fortnight ago; N'Golo Kante was suspended, meaning Jorginho came in, while Antonio Rudiger replaced Kurt Zouma in central defence, and Olivier Giroud was in for Timo Werner up front.
And they held on for what should be a confidence-boosting victory, but concerns remain over their bite in the final third, with Werner turning wide having gone through one-on-one with Areola in stoppage time as his Premier League goal drought reaches 10 appearances.
Fulham will also take confidence from a defiant defensive display for 78 minutes, as manager Scott Parker opts for solidity in the hope of keeping his side in the Premier League after a leaky, wide-open start to the season.
Redknapp: Win stops outside noise
Jamie Redknapp on Sky Sports:
"It stops the noise that's outside Chelsea. Everyone was talking about the bad run they were on in the Premier League. All of a sudden now, the dressing room is a better place. When you're in a dressing room when you're struggling, it's an awful place to be. You get players talking and you feel as a manager it creates so much paranoia, you feel everyone is against you. Who's on your side, who's not?
"He made a couple of big changes today, went for experience, had to juggle the pack to get the right result in the end, and he's probably looked at it today and thought, 'Ziyech, when he came off and he brought on Hudson-Odoi, it looked better'. More pace, more direction, someone going down that right-hand side with a right foot helps as well.
"A couple of answers for him, defensively. When you've had one clean sheet in seven, sometimes things have to change - be it a system change or you bring in a new player. I thought Rudiger today, alongside Thiago Silva, looked a real partnership. I know they were playing against 10 men for pretty much half the game but they looked good, they looked solid, they looked sound, and that's something you can go on."
What the managers said...
Fulham boss Scott Parker to Sky Sports on the red card: "Antonee's disappointed because it changes the game and I suppose it's that balance of being aggressive, which I want my teams to be, being committed, which we all want to see, but if it is a reckless tackle, then there's a balance and it's what he needs to learn from.
"Do I want to knock that out of us? No because I want us to be competitive and we'll need to be, but the fine margins means sometimes you cross that line and maybe he's crossed it today."
On his team: "I've got nothing but admiration for my players. To go up against a team with the quality of Chelsea and to show the commitment and the way we played at times, under difficult circumstances, was pretty remarkable."
Chelsea boss Frank Lampard to Sky Sports on Mason Mount: "Mason was outstanding in the game. He deserves the accolades of how we played. Mason was in a slightly deeper role at that point but could still arrive in the box. But his quality is brilliant, his attitude is brilliant, so he deserves it."
On Timo Werner: "I think it's normal. If you don't score as regularly as you want, those are goals I've seen him score many times, that's his bread and butter going through like that and scoring. It happens, he has to just keep working, that's the only way out of it. We've all been there if you're a goalscorer. It will go in for him, because he's high quality."
On a significant win: "Only if we back it up. It feels good tonight. We went on a really good unbeaten run, went two points off the lead, and then we took a hit in a short period of time. We can't think everything is solved, because it's not solved, and we want more. I keep saying we're in a period of transition, we know there are new players, we know we are trying to find solutions in how we're playing, but we need to get points because it's Chelsea."
- Chelsea's win ended a run of three straight Premier League defeats on the road. This was the Blues' fourth away clean sheet of the season, after keeping just one last term.
- Chelsea had 21 shots against Fulham today, only managing more against other promoted sides West Brom (22) and Leeds (23) in Premier League games this season.
- As well as scoring the winner, Mason Mount created seven chances in this game - the joint-most by a Chelsea player in a league game this season (Mount also 7 vs Leeds).
Fulham now host Manchester United in the Premier League on Wednesday at 8.15pm, before hosting Burnley in the FA Cup fourth round on Sunday at 2.30pm.
Live Premier League
Chelsea go to Leicester in the Premier League on Tuesday evening, live on Sky Sports Premier League at 8.15pm, before hosting Luton in the FA Cup fourth round at midday on Sunday.