Chelsea 1-0 Sunderland: Lamps lights the way as Blues ride their luck against Black Cats
Chelsea secured a vital 1-0 win to stay within touching distance of their title rivals as they overcame an improved Sunderland at Stamford Bridge on saturday.
Chelsea secured a vital win to stay within touching distance of their title rivals as they overcame an improved Sunderland at Stamford Bridge. Frank Lampard struck the only goal of the game in a tricky contest against the North East outfit who have enjoyed a resurgence under new boss Martin O’Neill.
In fact Sunderland could well have enjoyed a share of the spoils had it been for better finishing; Craig Gardner shot wide from 12 yards while ex Arsenal forward Nicklas Bendtner should have done better as the game drew to a close. Chelsea owed much to the reactions of Lampard who pounced first when Fernando Torres’ fierce effort crashed back off the bar before the England midfielder opened the scoring.
Andre Villas-Boas’ side found themselves eight points adrift of third placed Tottenham Hotspurs after they exploited their game in hand, beating Everton 2-0 at White Hart Lane on Wednesday. With Spurs flying high in the league, Chelsea could ill afford to make any further crash-landings and the Stamford Bridge faithful were hoping for take-off after a thumping 4-0 win against Portsmouth last week.
Despite an early scare when James McClean was brilliantly thwarted by Jose Bosingwa after good work from Stephane Sessegnon, Chelsea looked comfortable in the games early stages. Juan Mata, who seems to treat Stamford Bridge as his very own theatre at which to perfect his art, was instrumental in Chelsea’s flowing, passing game. The Spaniard initiated the chance for Raul Meireles before the goal and just as it looked to be breaking down, the little midfielder clipped in a wonderful cross which fellow countryman Torres complimented with an acrobatic volley which thundered against the bar. With barely enough time to react, the Sunderland defence stood and watched as Lampard connected with the rebound to put the Blues ahead after 13 minutes.
It was the perfect start, and having shrugged off the pressure of a 0-0 scoreline Villas-Boas’ men went in search of the comfort of a second goal. Mata led the charge, his skill on the ball and ability to pick a pass within the finest of margins delighted the home crowd. Mata had a free-kick saved before Torres- in search of those ever-elusive goals- had two chances to score: a low shot that was fired just wide and a header that Phil Bardsley managed to clear off the line.
Villas-Boas was visibly keen to wrap this game up before half-time, with long-term absentee Michael Essien hoping to be introduced, but chances went begging before Sunderland began to threaten an equaliser. Sessegnon was the tormentor of the day for Chelsea’s back four and his constant business and speed worried them before the Frenchman set up Bendtner whose effort went the wrong side of the post just before the break. An injury to Matthew Kilgallon forced O’Neill’s hand just before half-time but the substitution that saw Michael Turner introduced did not disrupt Sunderland’s efforts to find an equaliser.
David Vaughan- who looks a player reborn under O’Neill’s stewardship- went close with an effort before the visitors had a strong appeal for a penalty turned away by referee Phil Dowd. The ball was played into Bendtner who got his body in between it and Ashely Cole, only for the left-back to come crashing through the Dane to collect possession. The game suddenly sprung to life after the appeal was waved away, and Lampard felt the force of a strong and particularly late Lee Cattermole challenge, who was clearly incensed by Cole’s effort’s to win the ball moments earlier.
Chelsea also had their own penalty appeal turned away; two in fact just seconds from each other. Torres did superbly to wriggle between two Sunderland defenders and appeared to collide with John O’Shea as he entered the area, whilst Mata and keeper Simon Mignolet came together in their attempts to collect the loose ball. Both appeared innocuous and Dowd allowed the game to carry on.
Villas-Boas, in an attempt to gain a sturdier foot hold after a frantic spell where neither team could keep possession, introduced Essien for goalscorer Lampard on 75 minutes. Unfortunately for the Blues boss, it was the visitors who looked the more likely to score and at 1-0 the next goal would prove crucial. First Gardner missed from close range when Sebastien Larsson pulled back and then Bendtner clipped the ball wide when he found himself one-on-one with Petr Cech, although the angle was tight. But it was McClean -who has found himself in goal scoring form recently- who wasted the best chance. Larsson again provided the cut-back after getting in behind the Chelsea back line but the youngster appeared un-sighted by a flailed Bosingwa leg and the chance to put the ball into a virtually empty net went wide.
On reflection it was a game that Sunderland at least deserved to draw after an impressive second half display in which O’Neill’s side matched and at times out played their counterparts. If it wasn’t for better finishing Chelsea might have been on the wrong end of an angry Villas-Boas team-talk: they again demonstrated a certain fragility at the back and a lack of cutting edge in attack. Luckily new team mate Gary Cahill watched from the stands and I’m sure all concerned cannot wait for the ex-Bolton man to get involved. But it was Lampard once more who essentially proved the difference as he continues to prove how important he is to this stuttering side.
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