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Chelsea 1-0 Stoke City: Cole strikes late to break Potters

Ashley Cole was the unlikely hero at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea snatched a late victory against an unfortunate Stoke City. Here is a match report by Joe Carroll

Ashley Cole beats Asmir Begovic in the 85th minute, breaking Stoke's firm resistance and giving Chelsea all three points

Ashley Cole beats Asmir Begovic in the 85th minute, breaking Stoke's firm resistance and giving Chelsea all three points

Ashley Cole was the unlikely hero at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea snatched a late victory against an unfortunate Stoke City. The visitors looked to be heading back to Staffordshire with at least a point before Cole finished from close range, beating ‘keeper Asmir Begovic after a clever flick from the impressive Juan Mata.

Hardly a thriller, Chelsea struggled for long periods to create much in the way of clear cut chances and in fact it was Stoke who could have been ahead: striker Jon Walters and new boy Michael Kightly both testing Petr Cech. The Blues showed plenty of flair but their chances were limited until Cole’s winner in the 85th minute.

Chelsea’s two goal hero from Wednesday night, Oscar, kept his place in the starting XI whilst John Terry and Frank Lampard made way for Gary Cahill and Juan Mata in the home side’s only changes against Juventus. For Stoke, their was again no starting berth for Michael Owen- a late free transfer- who had to settle for a place on the bench. There was plenty of optimism from the Chelsea faithful after a strong showing against the Italian champions, despite the late equaliser that denied them all three points. But despite the obvious attacking threat, of which the home side had in abundance, Roberto Di Matteo’s side struggled to find the cutting edge from mid-week.

Stoke- with an appalling record of no wins and nine losses in their last 11 meetings with Chelsea- understandably came with the plan of trying to nullify and contain the Blues but they managed to carve out several opportunities of their own. There had been more excitement at a wake before Walters came closest to opening the scoring: his header crashing against the crossbar having risen highest to meet a Glenn Whelan free-kick.

That should have been the wake-up call Di Matteo’s men needed, having enjoyed the lion’s share of possession but failing to turn it into goals. In fact, the home side were struggling to even turn it into chances, and on one such rare occasion Fernando Torres could only head over from a Mata corner. It would seem five games might be too few on which to judge whether the troubled Spaniard is to enjoy a high goals tally this term. His performance on the opening day of the season and his build up play with new signing Eden Hazard certainly suggested that this season could finally see Torres back to his best, however you always feel a comic moment of misfortune is not too far away.

And that was certainly the only way to describe his next effort before half time. Compatriot Mata showed great skill to play Torres through on goal with a delightful dink, but the striker -one on one with Begovic- completely miscued his shot and missed the ball entirely. At the other end Kightly forced a save from Cech when Geoff Cameron fired in a pin-point cross, and Cahill was needed to ensure the ball did not cross the line.

Stoke appeared to be using the crowd’s frustration at the home side’s profligacy to spur them on and by half-time it was the visitors who could well have been in front. Chelsea’s response after the break was better, and there was certainly more intent going forward. Oscar began to replicate his performance from mid-week, showing superb skill and trickery to advance past a Stoke defender. He had a shot comfortably saved by Begovic after some good work allowed him to unleash a left foot drive. Moments before, the Brazilian was booked for taking a tumble in the Stoke penalty area and the sense of injustice at the official’s decision to discipline Oscar seemed to galvanise Chelsea somewhat.

As Chelsea poured forward, Mata blazed wide from close range before Oscar- becoming more influential with each passing minute- shot wide and had an effort deflected that forced a good save from Begovic. Whilst Lampard and summer signing Victor Moses were introduced for the Blues, Tony Pulis showed great daring in bringing on the attacking trio of Matthew Etherington, Peter Crouch and former England striker Owen in a bold attempt to snatch victory. And the gamble nearly paid off as the Potters went close on two occasions: first Walters failed to get enough on a swinging cross before Etherington’s left-foot drive flew through a crowd of players before going wide, much to the relief of Cech and co.

With both sides going close, the game was still up for grabs until the 85th minute. A low cross from the right was ingeniously caressed by Mata’s instep into the path of the on-rushing Cole who dinked the ball over Begovic. The goal proved decisive, but there was still time for more drama as David Luiz’s reckless challenge on Walter’s left the Wirral born player fuming. Luiz escaped with  just a yellow card, while Chelsea escaped with three points. Stoke can take heart in the way they contained the European champions as well as for their courage in attack. Better finishing could have seen them steal maximum points, but just as victory was starting to look unlikely for the Blues, an unlikely scorer rescued the day.

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