- Associated Press - Saturday, March 1, 2014

LONDON (AP) - Andre Schuerrle scored a second-half hat trick as Chelsea extended its lead at the top of the English Premier League with a 3-1 victory over bottom-place Fulham on Saturday.

After a sluggish first-half performance, Chelsea overpowered its west London neighbor to capitalize on Arsenal losing 1-0 at Stoke and go four points clear at the top.

Eden Hazard, as influential as ever in the Chelsea midfield, created Schuerrle’s first two goals and striker Fernando Torres set up the third.

“What I expect from him is cold blood,” Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said. “When he’s in front of the goal, he’s not the guy (for whom) the goal becomes very small … he’s a finisher.”

Having created so much danger before the break at Craven Cottage, Fulham managed to score a 74th-minute goal through Johnny Heitinga.

It was just a consolation, and there was no way back for Fulham in the first home game under Felix Magath, its third manager of the season.

“I was very satisfied with the first half,” Magath said. “I think for most of the first half we had control of the game, we (allowed) Chelsea not many chances and we had two or three good situations.”

The hosts needed Clint Dempsey to find the target when presented with a header in the third minute before his two-month loan from the Seattle Sounders ends.

It was the under-pressure Fulham looking more dangerous in front of goal, with Chelsea creating little. Dempsey came close again after 20 minutes, bringing down Kieran Richardson’s cross but the American forward was unable to get a shot in.

From Chelsea, the goal threat amounted to Ramires shooting wide, and Oscar whipping in a free kick that Sidwell headed clear.

“Fulham was committed, aggressive - in a good way - they were competitive, they were winning the first and second balls,” Mourinho said. “There was great work from (Scott) Parker and (Steve) Sidwell in the middle of the park and we weren’t there.”

Mourinho was so unhappy with the performance that he wouldn’t speak to his players in the dressing room.

“I left them, I went outside, waiting for the second half,” Mourinho said.

“The first half was really bad for us … I was really disappointed because before the match we said they cannot have more motivation than us.”

Fulham would be left regretting not making the most of its first half, as its defense was cut through with ease seven minutes after the break.

From inside his own half, Hazard picked out Schuerrle, who headed the ball past Dan Burn, ran forward and slotted into the net. What had been a finely balanced contest between top and bottom swung in Chelsea’s favor.

“Everything changed,” Mourinho said. “My team changed the intensity of the game.”

Schuerrle was on the end again when Hazard slipped the ball through in the 65th and the Germany midfielder slotted it low into the net.

Torres found more success as the creator, heading down Cech’s goalkick before knocking the ball through for Schuerrle to score again with ease in the 68th.

“At halftime, the players forgot to defend and it was for us a very big problem,” said Magath, whose first match in charge was a 1-1 draw with West Bromwich Albion last weekend.

Fulham came alive again in the closing stages, but all the team could produce was Heitinga tapping into an open net after Darren Bent knocked the ball across the goal. As Chelsea edges closer to the title, the League Championship looms for Fulham.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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