Frank Lampard inspired Chelsea to victory against Wigan Athletic with a vintage performance which yet again outlined his importance to the club amid on-going contract talks.
Lampard led the Blues out as captain on a wet Saturday afternoon at Stamford Bridge and provided a suitable reminder to all concerned at the club as to his invaluable qualities. Ramires put the home side 1-nil up inside 25 minutes and Eden Hazard appeared to have put daylight between the two sides with a first time strike after 56 minutes. But Shaun Maloney struck 2 minutes later to cut the deficit and set up a potentially nervy ending. However veteran Lampard added the third with a typical, low drive after a clever dummy on the edge of the area. With the 3-points all but wrapped up, Marko Marin headed in after Ali Al-Habsi had initially saved.
This fixture has typically been somewhat of a walk-in-the-park for Chelsea in the Premier League with the Latics having not once left Stamford Bridge with all 3 points. But with Rafael Benitez’s side without a win in 4 games, the pressure cooker that is the Bridge under Roman Abramovich was boiling over. Benitez’s Chelsea have conceded late goals and points as a consequence to ‘inferior’ opposition of late, and Blues fans were clearly worried that this could be another such occasion.
And without their little Spanish wizard -Juan Mata- who has so often provided a spark of joy in a cloud of gloom in West London, it looked as though it could be another miserable afternoon. The game was largely un-eventful in the opening exchanges but the marauding run David Luiz who looked more comfortable deployed in midfield, helped break the deadlock on 23 minutes. Fernando Torres received the Brazilian’s pass and found Ramires running into space behind the Latic’s defence. The midfielder had the time to compose himself before opening up his body to dispatch beyond Al-Habsi at his near-post.
The game then proceeded into a scrappy affair, not helped by the deluge of rain that made playing conditions far from ideal. If the weather appeared to be against Chelsea and their style, then the official’s positioning may have seemed counter-productive to their game when Oscar’s pass was cut out by referee Mike Dean. The ball rebounded into Maloney’s path but his cross was well seen to by Cesar Azpilicueta and the danger averted.
It wasn’t till after the re-start that Chelsea fans could start to breathe a little more easily as the Blues look to take control. Azpilicueta was allowed too easily to cut back onto his left at the byline and as he advanced into the area he had the time to pick out Hazard who finished low under Al-Habsi’s reach.
But Wigan’s reaction was instant and the deficit was soon cut back to 1 goal. Maloney was the heartbeat of the Wigan side and his tireless running eventually paid off when a long ball from midfield met his diagonal run along the Chelsea back line. With Petr Cech so far out, Maloney only needed a sneak-peak of goal and the diminutive forward squeezed his shot in from a tight angle.
Cue uneasy groans simultaneously diffusing from each side of the Bridge, as Blues fans sensed another promising lead being thrown away. And it could well have ended that way had Dean pointed to the spot when Ronnie Stam’s goal-bound effort appeared to strike Ashley Cole’s arm. But with Wigan pushing for an equaliser that would go a long way to helping them avoid the drop for successive seasons, Chelsea hit the Latics on the break.
Hazard’s cut back from the left was cleverly allowed to roll through the legs of Mata who had appeared as a substitute. The Spaniard, telepathically aware of those around him, allowed the ball to continue to Lampard who struck low and hard from the edge of the area, and his expertly controlled shot nestled in the corner, beyond Al-Habsi’s reach. The goal coming at a crucial time from a crucial player underlined just what the England man can still contribute to this side, and the game was now beyond the reach of Roberto Martinez’s men who had been so close to claiming a point.
The third goal looked to have been enough to secure victory on 86 minutes but Chelsea were taking no chances after too many late comebacks. With Wigan demoralised and exhausted by the third goal and their efforts respectively, Chelsea sought a fourth and when Azpilicueta’s goal bound effort was palmed away by Al-Habsi in injury time, Marin was at hand to react first and nod home.
Having failed to win in four games and with the disappointment of surrendering a lead last week at St. James’ Park after coming from behind, Blues fans won’t be the only one’s breathing a sigh of relief at the full-time whistle. Benitez has done enough to keep emergency board room talks away for another week, but the fear of losing (or not winning) has never thrived so much at the Bridge. And with the fans unwilling to accept the Spaniard, there’d be no surprise to see those talks come sooner rather than later.
But for now, Chelsea are keeping themselves at the front of the pack for Champions League qualification, even if the Premier League title seems out of reach. As for Lampard, there can’t be much more the England veteran can do to convince Chelsea he is worth another contract. Those particular talks it seems also can’t come soon enough for all concerned at the Bridge.