Premier League – Chelsea see off Spurs challenge

Chelsea restored their three-point lead at the top of the Premier League with a 3-0 win over bitter rivals Tottenham at Stamford Bridge.

Ashley Cole, Michael Ballack and Didier Drogba were on target as Spurs’ top-four aspirations were dealt a second blow in a week.

Having beaten Liverpool on the opening day of the season, hopes were high in the white part of North London that the dominance of the so-called Big Four could finally be ended this season.

But this reverse, off the back of last weekend’s defeat to Manchester United, has served to prescribe a sharp dose of reality to Harry Redknapp’s side: mixing with the big boys is not going to be easy after all.

That is not to say Redknapp should not be encouraged by his team’s performance. He should, and had referee Howard Webb awarded a penalty when Ricardo Carvalho tripped Robbie Keane in the box with the score at 1-0, the outcome could have been far different.

As it was, Webb waved away Keane’s furious claims – the Spurs skipper offering for his name to be taken as, if not a penalty, surely it must have been a dive – and Chelsea took a two-goal lead just three minutes later.

Cole opened the scoring just after the half-hour mark, continuing his great recent form by diving in to head Drogba’s far-post cross past Carlo Cudicini.

Jose Bosingwa had earlier signalled Chelsea’s intent with a fiercely-struck effort that crashed against the angle of post and bar while Frank Lampard saw a header bounce wide and Nicolas Anelka hit the side-netting from a tight angle.

But it was by no means all Chelsea early on. Indeed, Spurs went to Stamford Bridge full of attacking intent and the in-form Jermain Defoe could, and perhaps should, have got his name on the scoresheet on 11 minutes.

The England striker saw his shot repelled by the legs of Petr Cech after he was played in on goal by a precision Wilson Palacios through pass.

Midfield duo Tom Huddlestone and Jermaine Jenas then saw crisp drives from outside the penalty area cause Cech concern; the first he was forced into saving, while the second whistled inches wide of the post.

The penalty decision on 55 minutes was a blow for Spurs, and Ballack’s goal soon after knocked the stuffing out of them.

Cudicini could only parry Drogba’s shot out to Lampard, who spun and sent the ball back into the danger area where the Germany midfielder was on hand to bundle over the line.

Two-nil seemed harsh on Spurs, who had contributed much to an open and entertaining game, so when Chelsea’s third hit the back of the net Spurs’ disappointment was understandable.

It was Drogba who got it, although there was an element of luck to the Ivorian’s strike after Alan Hutton – a replacement for the once-again injured Ledley King – slid in to make a challenge only to succeed in knocking it past the advancing Cudicini. Drogba was left with the easy task of finishing into an empty net.

With Spurs deflated, Chelsea turned the screw and could have added to their three goals when John Obi Mikel saw a long-range shot only just kept out by Cudicini and fellow substitute Salomon Kalou fired against the post from an impossibly tight angle.

Cudicini was brought into further action deep into eight minutes of injury time – added because Sebastien Bassong was stretchered off wearing a neck brace after landing awkwardly in a challenge with Drogba – and saved with his legs to deny Kalou.

But the final action came at the Chelsea end as Peter Crouch, on as a late substitute, finished well only to see his ‘goal’ disallowed for offside. The decision, this time correct, neatly summed up Spurs’ day.

Mike Hytner / Eurosport