Mauricio Pochettino predicted Chelsea will benefit from having to “suffer” though the final minutes of their 1-0 win over Fulham at Stamford Bridge.
Cole Palmer’s first-half penalty was the difference but Marco Silva’s side never looked beaten and threw everything at their hosts in search of a late leveller.
Chelsea were perhaps fortunate not to lose Malo Gusto to a red card after 38 minutes for catching Willian with his studs, a VAR check confirming the on-field decision of a booking.
Palmer scored his ninth goal since arriving from Manchester City in the summer when he slotted in from the spot on the stroke of half-time, a foul awarded against defender Issa Diop on Raheem Sterling after collecting Palmer’s sublime through-ball.
It was the kind of pass Chelsea have so often laboured to find this season, and that was the case for much of the first half here.
Indeed Fulham would have been more than good value for going in at the break level, and might even have taken the lead had Harry Wilson been more accurate with his far-post finish from Andreas Pereira’s cross, striking his effort too close to goalkeeper Djordje Petrovic.
Chelsea’s best chance of the first 45 minutes prior to the goal fell to the head of Armando Broja who thumped wide from Enzo Fernandez’s cross. Sterling was a lingering threat down the left but on the whole was dealt with by Fulham right-back Kenny Tete.
“The first half wasn’t the first half that we sought or planned,” said Pochettino. “Something happened before the game, I don’t want to explain, that affected the team a little bit.
“In the second half we started really good, played really good football for 30 minutes, should score another goal and kill the game. But when it’s open and you don’t kill the game, we conceded a few set pieces, a wide free-kick and a corner, and they have good potential.
“We defended well, it was good for us to suffer a little bit at the end. This type of game will help us grow and build our confidence in the way we’re working.
“It was good to see this young team defend the last 15 minutes the way we defended. We were fighting, we were doing everything to try and keep the result.”
Pochettino defended the decision not to dismiss Gusto in the first half.
It would have been the defender’s second red of the season after he was sent off against Aston Villa in September.
“Yellow card because it was a yellow card,” said the manager. “Remember against Aston Villa it was a red card, I didn’t complain about that. Today it was a yellow card.
“I have a very good relationship with (Marco Silva), he’s a great person and coach. If I’m put in his place, I’m going to tell you it was a red card. I understand.
“The view of the referees sometimes are different. What can I say? They thought it was only a yellow card, and good for us.”
Fulham boss Silva struck a more oppositional stance in response to the VAR’s decision.
“It’s a clear mistake from the VAR,” he said. “It’s a clear red card.
“It’s difficult for (referee) Anthony Taylor to see if it’s a red card. We have to be fair with him because the moment is really quick. In the Premier League, in 10 moments like that one, nine have been a red card.”