Premier League – Chelsea go four points clear with nervy win
Nicolas Anelka‘s 43th-minute header gave Chelsea a nervy 1-0 victory over Bolton at Stamford Bridge as Carlo Ancelotti’s side stretched their lead at the top of the Premier League table to four points.
Anelka netted his first goal in nearly three months as he converted Didier Drogba‘s stunning pinpoint cross from close range, and Bolton could not respond as they recorded their 16th successive league defeat to ‘big four’ clubs.
John Terry was the centre of attention as the England defender appeared to handle the ball inside the Chelsea box just after the hour mark, but Bolton were left feeling aggrieved as their vociferous appeals for a penalty were controversially turned down by referee Lee Probert, while a second handball was spotted by Drogba in the first half.
The Frenchman was one of three changes made by the Blues as Salomon Kalou and Michael Ballack also seized starting berths in a five-man midfield as Florent Malouda was confined to the substitutes’ bench.
Chelsea made a bright and inventive start to the match, but Ancelotti was left to patrol the touchline anxiously as Petr Cech rushed out to claim a loose ball in the Chelsea box with Taylor lurking ominously at the back post from Lee Chung-Yong’s testing cross in the 16th minute.
Kevin Davies and Yuri Zhirkov collided very heavily in the Chelsea box midway through the first half, and the Russian proceeded to give a very convincing Terry Butcher impersonation with a blood-soaked bandage wrapped around his head.
Chelsea almost broke the deadlock in the 26th minute as Drogba’s powerful free-kick was parried by Jussi Jaaskelainen straight at the onrushing Kalou, but the Ivorian could not react quickly enough as the ball ricocheted off his head and out of play.
But Anelka ensured that the hosts went in at the break in the ascendancy as the Frenchman rose to head Drogba’s delightfully dinked delivery from the left beyond Jaaskelainen from close range.
Chelsea began the second half at a frantic pace, forcing Bolton under the cosh with wave after wave of pressure, and Kalou squandered a glorious chance to double his side’s lead in the 55th minute.
The Ivorian, who was making just his second league start, latched on to an exquisitely threaded through ball from Drogba, but planted his tame shot straight at the onrushing Jaaskelainen, who spread himself superbly to thwart the winger.
The Bolton bench were apoplectic with rage in the 62nd minute as Lee Chung-Yong’s cross was blocked by the hand of Terry in the Chelsea box, and replays suggested that the visitors were unfortunate not to have been awarded a penalty.
Two minutes later, the ever-sprightly Zhirkov hurtled down the left before unleashing a fierce shot which arrowed towards the near post, only for Jaaskelainen to parry the ball smartly away to safety as the Blues were again kept at bay.
Anelka departed to a standing ovation from both sets of supporters in the 67th minute as Malouda was introduced at the expense of the former Bolton striker, and he was shortly followed by the hugely popular Joe Cole.
The visitors remained full of endeavour and aggression with Chelsea forced to battle relentlessly as a great deal of anxiety pervaded Stamford Bridge.
Cole provided an immediate spark for the hosts, and his ball inside found Lampard in space, with only the near post denying the midfielder his 22nd goal of the season with Jaaskelainen comprehensively beaten in the 79th minute.
Five minutes from time Bolton came agonisingly close to inflicting a late blow as substitute Johan Elmander beat Terry at the back post, only to head narrowly wide from Matthew Taylor‘s devilish delivery from out on the left.
The tension continued to mount into the final few minutes and, after Drogba dallied inside the Chelsea box, another replacement Ivan Klasnic could easily have levelled, only to drag his shot wide of Cech’s far post.
With three forwards on the pitch at the close, Coyle’s side could not be accused of providing Chelsea with an easy victory, but the Blues held on to preserve their slender lead and assume a four-point advantage at the top of the Premier League table with four games left to play.
Dan Quarrell / Eurosport