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Chelsea get helping hand in Battle at the Bridge

Drogba vs Bolton

By Joe Carroll.

Chelsea have gone four points clear at the top of the Premier League this evening with a narrow 1-0 victory over Bolton Wanderers who will feel aggrieved not to have taken something from the game.

Nicolas Anelka’s decisive headed goal moments before half time ensured that the Blues extended their winning run to 5 games as well as opening up a 4 point gap between themselves and Manchester United at the top of the Premier League.  United boss Sir Alex Ferguson did his best to unsettle Chelsea before the game, saying that in Bolton they had an ‘easy game’ and by all accounts his words very nearly knocked the Londoners off their stride.

As the scoreline suggests it was hardly a stroll in the park for Chelsea, who were extremely fortunate to get away with two blatant handball offences in their own penalty area.  Indeed the home team were very nearly the architects of their own downfall- the little they threw at the visitors during the opening exchanges was easily rebuked by an organised and sturdy rearguard.  Bolton were proving the onlooking Ferguson wrong, who would clearly be only too happy to admit as much- his comments having the desired motivational effect leaving fellow countryman Coyle with not much else to say in his pre match address.

Bolton had something to prove, and the robust and bulky figure of Kevin Davies epitomised the mentality the Trotters had throughout the game: go in hard but fair.  The sight of Yuri Zhirkov returning to the field with a bloodied bandage after a clash with the Bolton forward did much to convince the Chelsea faithful that the whites were not going to lie down.

Didier Drogba was the central figure of the half though; his two free kicks providing the only worthwhile test for keeper’ Jasskeleinen, but it was in his only penalty area where he really could have changed the game, although not in the way Chelsea would have wanted.  An attempted aerial clearance saw the Ivorian clearly manoeuvre the ball with his left arm- the eyes of the Bridge bore down on Lee Probert: no penalty.

If Bolton were feeling hard done by, then they were to find out that Drogba wasn’t quite finished.  His cross from the left side found the head of Anelka who was well positioned to head home from close range.  Coyle and his men were understandably frustrated after a committed first half that could have seen them 1-0 up, ended in a familiar Stamford Bridge scoreline.

After a first half that never really saw the home side in full swing, Drogba led the second half charge that saw Chelsea in the driving seat.  He put Salomon Kalou clean through early on but his fellow countryman found the ever-impressive Jaaskelainen blocking his path to goal.  But for the Finnish international, Bolton could have found themselves on the wrong end of a Chelsea drubbing- a habit they have enjoyed with recent 5-0 and 7-1 victories over Portsmouth and Aston Villa, respectively. However the Trotters’ never-say- die attitude made sure that Chelsea were never quite able to put the game out of sight.

The Blues enjoyed 63% of possession, creating 21 goal scoring opportunities 8 of which were on target so it wasn’t through a lack of effort or creativity that made for such an anxious ending.  Bolton failed to create much in the way of an equaliser and they were not about to get any help from the games officials either as they had a second penalty appeal turned down.  One blatant handball is unlucky; two, and you’d forgive the Bolton fans for thinking someone up there in the higher order of things simply did not want them to reap the efforts of the night.

John Terry was the culprit this time, and it is not the first time the Chelsea skipper has gotten away with similar incidents involving his arms.  Chelsea, sensing their luck may run out any time soon went in search of a second goal that would kill off a Bolton come back.  Frank Lampard hit the post from a typical long range effort after the impressive Joe Cole had set him up from a clever flick.

Despite Chelsea’s huffing and puffing, the the second half ended as it had begun with the Stamford Bridge scoreboard showing one goal to nil, but Bolton could well have snatched a deserved equaliser if it weren’t for a more clinical finisher.  A deep cross into the Chelsea area saw Johan Elmander slip in behind the defence, but he glanced his header tamely wide.

After a tough 90 minutes that left many bruised and some bloodied, the battle had been won by those on home turf.  Chelsea boss Ancelotti may not have been best pleased with the overall performance, but he will certainly be content with a narrow win that spells victory nonetheless.  Hard graft is the stuff of champions at this stage of the season and winning is everything in order to win titles, as is a handful of luck.

Player Ratings:

Chelsea: Cech 6, Zhirkov 7, Terry 7, Alex 6, Ferreira 5, Ballack 6, Lampard 7, Mikel 7, Kalou 6, Drogba 8, Anelka 8

Bolton: Jasskeleinen 8, Robinson 6, Cahill 8, Knight 6, Steinsson 5, Ricketts 6, Muamba, 6, Taylor 6, Lee 7, Wilshere 6, Davies 7

Man of the Match: Niclas Anelka

Should Bolton have had two penalties?…How lucky were Chelsea to come away with 3 points?…What did you think of Anelka and Drogba playing together…can they form a successful partnership?…Please leave your comments below…

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