Fernando Torres had a second disappointing showing for Chelsea at Craven Cottage on Monday night as their hopes of retaining the Premier League title all-but disappeared.
Torres missed a host of chances for the visiting side after being chosen ahead of Didier Drogba at the head of a three-man attack.
The result leaves Caro Ancelotti’s side 12 points behind leaders Manchester United with 12 games to play.
While Torres was a shadow of the man who Liverpool had known in previous seasons, David Luiz, who was also bought on transfer deadline day was excellent — until the second minute of injury time, when he conceded a penalty.
Petr Cech saved the resulting spot-kick from Clint Dempsey, but the fact Luiz’s push led to the penalty marred an otherwise flawless performance from the Brazilian.
Chelsea switched back to the 4-3-3 formation that had proved so successful in the early part of this season, with Didier Drogba dropping to the bench in favor of Fernando Torres as the central striker.
It was an intriguing move from manager Carlo Ancelotti, who last week admitted he was still searching for a way to play both Drogba and Torres in the same team.
David Luiz, who arrived at Chelsea along with Torres on last month’s transfer deadline day, was handed his first start for his new club in the center of defense.
Fulham, who headed into this match unbeaten at home this year, kept with most of the same team that has brought them three straight wins at Craven Cottage in the league.
Right-back John Pantsil was dropped to the home bench in favor of Mexican Carlos Salcido, who started his first match in three fixtures.
Fulham enjoyed the first meaningful attack of the match five minutes in, with Andy Johnson being put through by Damien Duff only to be thwarted by Luiz.
Four minutes later, Fulham had to withstand a sustained period of Chelsea pressure, but some good work from Nicolas Anelka on the right ended with Frank Lampard shooting wide.
Fulham captain Danny Murphy had a lucky escape on 23 minutes when he lofted what would have been a perfect pass through to Nicolas Anelka, but Brede -Hangeland was quick enough to clear the danger.
Two minutes later, Duff’s 30-yard shot was palmed clear by Petr Cech.
Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer made his first save 33 minutes into the game, keeping out Branislav Ivanovic’s shot from near the touchline with one hand.
Murphy repeated his back-pass error five minutes before half time, this time to Torres, who was unable to get a shot away before Aaron Hughes stepped in.
Torres had two chances in the last minute of the first half — and wasted both of them. First, he weakly shot at Schwarzer, before toe-poking again toward the Fulham goalkeeper.
Then straight after the restart, the Spanish striker headed over the bar, before shooting well wide of the far post when under no pressure from the Fulham defense.
Torres’ night was finally over on 70 minutes, when Ancelotti’s resolve broke and he replaced his expensive acquisition with Drogba.
Not that the Ivory Coast man did much better, as he launched a ball well over the bar with his first chance, on 86 minutes.
Things were tight until the last minute of injury time when Luiz pushed Dempsey in the box. Cech saved the ensuing penalty and Dempsey put the rebound over the bar.