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Chelsea 3-1 Norwich: A Mata of leaving it late again as new boy seals victory

Two late goals from Frank Lampard and new signing Juan Mata sealed victory for Chelsea as they struggled to beat a dogged Norwich City side 3-1 at Stamford Bridge.  Jose Bosingwa opened the scoring with a stunning strike from 25-yards but Grant Holt replied for the visitors with half an hour to play.  Lampard’s penalty in the 81st minute spared the home side’s blushes before debutant Mata benefited from a sloppy defensive error, slotting home from close range.

It wasn’t the first time Chelsea chose to leave things till the last minute; last weekend’s narrow 2-1 victory over West Brom demanded that Andre Villas-Boas’ men come from behind, Florent Malouda netting the decisive goal in the last ten minutes.  Bosingwa’s belter within six minutes of the games infancy did much to convince the Chelsea faithful that there would be no repeat of last weeks stuttering performance, however Chelsea failed to build on their early lead, looking a far cry from last season’s flying start to the season.

Rather than settle Chelsea- who opted for what is now a rather old-fashioned 4-4-2 system with Didier Drogba paired with Fernando Torres- the opening goal sought to deceive fans, who were still watching a team trying to find out if this system was truly for them.  Chelsea were far from flowing, and Norwich sensing the tension almost hit back on 17 minutes.  Wes Hoolahan lifted the ball over the Blue’s backline for Holt to run on to.  Had the bulky centre forward been a bit sharper, he would have found himself one-on-one with goalkeeper Hilario but the Norwich man couldn’t find a hold on the ball and the danger passed for Chelsea.

Hoolahan again turned provider, this time for Chris Martin who beat the offside trap only to find his effort saved by the onrushing Hilario.  A rebounded attempt ensued but again a lack of cutting edge denied the visitors who should have found themselves at least level in this game.

The Chelsea stopper was certainly the busier of the two men between the sticks, and again Hilario saved well from a Holt header.  Kyle Naughton then fancied his chances form long range, ala Bosingwa, but his powerful effort was tipped over much to the relief of the increasingly agitated home crowd.  It was impossible to tell whether the tension originated in the stands and seeped onto pitch level or vice-versa,  with every groan accompanying a sloppy pass or misplaced tackle.

Drogba had a speculative free-kick fail to trouble Norwich’s John Ruddy in goal, and a half that promised so much in it’s opening moments fizzled out long before the half time whistle had been blown.  An inability to dominate games in the fashion that Blues fans had become so accustomed to under the stewardship of Mourinho and Ancelotti was becoming a far too familiar trend and it was important that Villas-Boas stopped the rot as soon as possible.

And with moments of the restart underway, Chelsea nearly had the perfect response to the dour first half.  John Terry rose superbly from a corner, beating his marker and directing his header goalwards, only for Norwich substitute Anthony Pilkington to clear from off the line.  The Norwich man was in the right place at the right time.  Sadly the same could not be said at the other end as the clock ticked over onto 60 minutes.

The Portuguese keeper, who had so far kept his side ahead with a string of smart if not routine saves came rushing out unnecessarily to claim a ball he realistically had no right to claim, colliding with defender Branislav Ivanovich in the process.  The mix up left Holt, who incidentally was in the right place at the right time, to hook the ball goalwards for possibly the simplest finish he will have all season.  I’m sure Holt will find time to thank the Blues keeper for his first goal in Premier League football, meaning the burly Englishman has now scored in League 2, League 1, the Championship and England’s top flight.

The howler was a wake up call for the home side, and in their frantic attempt to regain the lead Chelsea’s front man Drogba suffered a serious concussion and had to be stretchered from the field after an aerial collision with keeper John Ruddy.  Whether it was the goalkeeping gaffe or the actual knock on the head that breathed new life into Chelsea mattered not as the home side sought to find a winner.

New arrivals Romelu Lukaku (who had onlookers rubbing their eyes to make sure it was Drogba’s-double and not Drogba himself coming back on) and Mata were introduced and the excitement of seeing the pair for the first time leaked from the crowd and pushed Chelsea on.  Steve Morrison however could well have upset the odds; Terry’s last ditch tackle preventing the striker a one-on-one goal-scoring chance, and with the game becoming more of an open, end to end contest, the decisive penalty was awarded with just eight minutes of normal time remaining.

Ruddy bravely came out again but was this time penalised for taking out the man Ramires and not the ball.  Ruddy was dismissed, as Lampard cooly stepped up to hammer home from 12-yards.  Another late show from the boys in blue, but there was more yet to come.  With the visitors visually demoralised by the late dismissal and second goal, a sloppy pass deep in his own penalty area from Richie De Laet presented new boy Mata with a clear sight of goal.  It was a “Mata” of picking his spot and applying the finish which the Spaniard duly delivered, sealing a rather undeserved gloss on a patchy performance.

The Blues showed plenty of grit and desire to claw something out of the game; a trait that will surely come in handy somewhere down the season’s line, and sure enough an ability to win a game when you’re not playing well is the sign of potential champions.  However, there is no escaping that Chelsea have so far made a sloppy start to the campaign, and if it wasn’t for a lack of cutting edge on behalf of Norwich this weekend and West Brom last, the Blues could have been playing catch up with Manchester’s early pace setters.

Watch the goals here


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