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Lampard silences critics with hat-trick


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0,,10268~10058341,00.jpgBolton 1-5 Chelsea

Lampard answers doubters with sublime hat-trick

England star Frank Lampard silenced his critics with a miserly performance as he guided Chelsea to their annual win at the Reebok against an uncharacteristically-poor Bolton side.

With his place in the national set-up under close scrutiny, Lampard responded to calls claiming he is finished with a brilliant hat-trick, as Chelsea returned to third place in the Premier League in emphatic style – moving just three points behind leaders Manchester United in the process.

In what was a highly-encouraging performance that somewhat predictably saw Daniel Sturridge score a brace on his return to the Reebok following his loan spell with the Trotters last term, Andre Villas-Boas’ side continued to demonstrate their refreshing attacking intent with a stunning showing away from home.

Chelsea’s embarrassment of riches was too much for the injury-beset hosts to contend with – even with star striker Fernando Torres suspended following his hero-to-zero antics against Swansea last weekend - and though Bolton improved after the interval following a stunning four-goal salvo inside half-an-hour, the damage had already been inflicted.

For Owen Coyle’s side; largely unrecognisable from the resilient force that had made the Reebok a difficult arena to enter for much of last term, the worrying slide continues – 10 defeats from the last 12 in the Premier League, including eight straight home losses, is a dismal record that will no doubt raise concerns over the club’s future in the top division.

And yet, whilst Bolton are enduring their worst start to a season in over a century, Chelsea’s resurgence under Andre Villas-Boas continues. The Blues once more played with an attacking freedom, and their incisive, creative passing remains a far-cry from the insipid displays that cost Carlo Ancelotti his job in May.

Villas-Boas’ refreshing outlook on the team's playing style and also squad rotation has both endeared neutrals to the Chelsea cause and improved the already-high sense of team spirit about the Blues camp, with each player fully aware that opportunities will eventually come.

The Portuguese tactician made a number of changes from the side that beat Swansea in the last league outing, with Sturridge’s timely return from injury enabling the Birmingham-born frontman to face his former club. Raul Meireles and Ramires were the preferred midfield duo, sitting behind Frank Lampard, David Luiz retained his place ahead of Branislav Ivanovic in a central defensive berth, whilst the effervescent Juan Mata started up front alongside Didier Drogba, who was making his first start in five matches following his horrendous head injury.

An early case study of the Blues' intensity and intent to lay down a marker to the rest of the Premier League title chasers was when Jose Bosingwa was released early down the right flank by David Luiz, winning a corner inside the first minute after his low cross was turned behind.

It took just 92 seconds for Sturridge to supply the inevitable; heading in from Juan Mata's inswinging delivery for his second of the season. A dignified reaction from the former Bolton man was a respectful gesture, but for a team whose Achilles' heel has been defending such deliveries, it would have been a welcome sight for Villas-Boas to see his side profit from defensive shortcomings for a change.

Hungarian goalkeeper Adam Bogdan - a late replacement for the experienced Jussi Jaaskelainen - had been left helpless with Sturridge's headed opener, and he was left similarly exposed as Lampard swept home his first of the afternoon twelve minutes later to cap off a flowing move with a finish not too dissimilar from the one that had earned Chelsea a point in the Mestalla on Wednesday.

Receiving the ball in his own half, it was Lampard who both started and finished the move, though he owed much to the clever link-up play between Ramires and Mata outside the Bolton box. The Brazilian cleverly flicked the ball into Mata's path and he fed Sturridge inside the box, who delayed his pass until Lampard arrived on cue to fire home from the edge of the area in trademark style.

But if Bogdan could do nothing with either of the first two, a brace of errors on his part only resulted in the deficit being widened. Firstly he could only divert a low shot from Sturridge into the roof of the net despite getting two hands to the ball, before he gifted Lampard a second after spilling David Luiz' raking effort. Sturridge's effort may have pitched early and been delivered with an element of surprise but the young Hungarian ought to have done better, before his shocking blunder for the fourth goal mere moments later allowed Lampard one of the more simple finishes of his Blues career.

Chelsea had raced into the quickest 4-0 lead in Premier League history and only a save at the near post denied Mata from extending it further. Contented with their advantage, Chelsea took their foot off the gas, but they were punished for doing so just 40 seconds into the second period.

It was Manchester City loanee Dedryck Boyata who denied the Blues a clean sheet on this occasion; deftly heading Martin Petrov's sumptuous free-kick past a beleaguered Petr Cech to deny Chelsea a first league clean sheet since the opening day at Stoke. Such an early response was a shock to the system for the Blues, and suddenly there was the smallest of footholds for Bolton to claw themselves back into contention.

Memories of an anxious recent Chelsea win over the Trotters spread amongst the travelling Blues faithful - in April 2009, Chelsea had held a 4-0 lead over Bolton before a superb fight-back almost saw a goalline clearance deny the Trotters a remarkable comeback as they eventually went down 4-3.

And that goal seemed to spark the Reebok crowd to life, and backed by what was left of the crowd, Bolton began to press home any advantage they had whilst Chelsea began the second period with lethargy. Whatever had been said by Coyle at the interval seemed to be working, and Villas-Boas had to re-instill some defensive rigidity into the team.

Ivanovic and John Mikel Obi entered the fray after Ramires had flashed a shot over the bar after Bogdan's torrid afternoon took another turn for the worse when he spilled another corner from Mata, but still Bolton pressed forward. Failing to take heed of Ramires' effort moments before, they were made to pay as Lampard completed his hat-trick in emphatic style to cap off another wonderful counter-attack.

A flowing move had seen Drogba turn provider on what was proving to be an efficient, selfless display by the Ivorian hit man. Like Sturridge in the first half, Chelsea's number 11 picked out Lampard with a perfect weighted pass, and Lampard made a difficult task seem easy as he disguised his shot into the very same goal where he had won Chelsea the championship in April 2005.

Fond memories of that goal might have been added to had Sturridge been more clinical - his hat-trick chance was passed up when his shot skimmed narrowly wide of the near post.

Whilst Lampard and Sturridge take the credit for their goalscoring endeavours, there were quality performances across the pitch for Chelsea. Luiz and Terry excelled, though in the Brazilian's case his greatest contribution was going forwards - whilst Didier Drogba also had a good game up front. It was a typical Drogba performance; no goal to show for his efforts, but a selfless display as he assumed the role of chief tormentor of the Bolton backline.

However, Bolton were not done as an attacking side themselves, and after already having an instinctive chip held by Cech, Kevin Davies will have felt hard done-by as his shot was cleared off the line brilliantly by Ivanovic. Replays indicated the ball had indeed crossed the line before the clearance was completed, but Ivanovic deserved the stroke of fortune for his anticipation and athleticism.

It then took a fine save from Cech to deny any further consolation for the Bolton cause as he tipped substitute Chris Eagles' rasping drive onto the inside of the post. The ball seemed to knuckle in the air and the Czech custodian was almost deceived by its trajectory, but a last-second readjustment prevented another black mark against the unusually permeable Chelsea backline.

With the Bolton tempest put out by the glowing flame that is Frank Lampard and his hat-trick heroics, a hard week for both the player and the club was completed with a more than satisfactory outcome. This performance was again a step in the right direction and will no doubt be used as a yardstick for future showings, whilst for Lampard it was a demonstration of sheer class as he moved to a tally of 175 goals in Chelsea blue.

This Chelsea side are an outfit dedicated to attack, and the outcome is that some defensive rigidity must return to the team. An attitude of always looking to outscore the opponent will sometimes be punished in the absence of clinical finishing and creativity, and though the team have started to convert more opportunities in recent weeks, Villas-Boas must start to throw caution to the wind, particularly away from home.

The moral victory that emerged out of the ruin of a 3-1 loss at Old Trafford last month showed the world that Chelsea are not as far behind the Manchester clubs as some would like to think, and with United to face Liverpool and then City in a top-of-the-table clash, this Chelsea team are more than just outsiders for the league title this season.

We are looking at genuine contenders, here - though only if the issues of an outlook of an all-out attack and defensive weaknesses be resolved.

Chelsea enter the international break as one of the form teams in the country, having taken fifteen points from the last six matches. A return to action against bogey team Everton will no doubt prove a sterner test, but in a league where you are only as good as your last performance, this Blues side will fancy their chances of avenging several disappointing results against the Toffees in recent times.

Bolton (4-2-3-1): Bogdan; Steinsson (Knight 46), Cahill, Boyata, Robinson; Reo-Coker, Gardner (Eagles 74); K Davies ©, Pratley, Petrov; Ngog (Tuncay 74)

Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Bosingwa (Ivanovic 53), D Luiz, Terry ©, Cole; Ramires (Mikel 56), Meireles, Lampard; Sturridge, Drogba, Mata (Anelka 72)

The TalkChelsea.net MAN OF THE MATCH award goes to Chelsea's number 8: FRANK LAMPARD

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