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Reprieved Lampard leads late Chelsea rally


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Chelsea 2

Under-fire Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas was handed a lifeline by veteran midfielder Frank Lampard, after the England star's last-minute winner temporarily lifted Chelsea out of their latest self-inflicted rut and into fourth place in the Premier League.

The Blues midfielder notched his ninth goal of what has been a difficult campaign both personally and for his club when he converted from close range to give Villas-Boas his first win in five matches. The result - coupled with a late win for Martin Jol's Fulham at Craven Cottage over an equally-inconsistent Arsenal team - means that Chelsea again occupy a Champions League spot despite having taken a poultry six points from the last fifteen available.

It was not a pretty win, based on the attacking qualities valued so dearly by Chelsea's Portuguese coach. Instead, it was one more reminiscent of the Blues juggernaut of a now-bygone age. The Mourinho Factor was very much evident, here, as two old-timers in Lampard and Ashley Cole combined to give the side a desperately-needed haul of three points in a display of courage and conviction. The precious nature of the result serves as an indication of both the resilience and the togetherness of this seemingly-lifeless Chelsea side, with the Blues recovering from the shock of yet another late concession.

But in a game in which the visitors had dominated territorially, having enjoyed the lion's share of possession, Villas-Boas' charges may well count their blessings. This is a game they had to win, and win they did. By rights, however, it is one they should have lost; despite the character, despite the togetherness.

Gratitude must be extended to two key parties in this encounter. Firstly, to referee Peter Walton, who deemed a late, high tackle by Lampard worthy of only a yellow card, whereas a straight dismissal looked to be a more consistent punishment. Secondly, to the much-maligned Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech, whose wonderful reaction save from Kevin Doyle's 93rd-minute glancing header may well have rescued Villas-Boas from a premature conclusion to his Chelsea career.

One might also thank the left boot of Bobby Zamora, which consigned Arsenal to a last-minute loss back in South West London.

This win may supply the building blocks to a promising immediate future. Achievable wins over Sunderland at home, and then Norwich away - and an FA Cup tie with Portsmouth - would seek to act as the cement and mortar to a run which could go a long way to securing a top four finish. Looking at this run of fixtures after three incredible back-to-back wins over in-form Newcastle, high-flying Valencia and champions-elect Manchester City, this looked like the period of the season where Chelsea could assert themselves in the Premier League against number of teams who they should be beating, a trip to Tottenham besides, and launch a belated challenge for the title.

Instead, Chelsea were left to rue wasted chances at Wigan. A similar story saw Fulham leave Stamford Bridge with a point, as goalkeeping brilliance by David Stockdale and defensive lethargy on the Blues' part conspired to add further pressure on Villas-Boas. Throw in a humiliating home defeat to a woefully average and injury-hit Aston Villa side, and rather than talk of an outside chance of the title, the doom and gloom predictions of Thursday-night football looked more of a reality than some Chelsea supporters would care to consider.

But, as Roberto Mancini would preach, 'this is football'. The nature of the beast is an ever-changing, fluctuating trend. From one moment you can be flying high, before a disastrous spell of results can destroy both the momentum and optimism of a football club. One battling result later and the pendulum swings again. Look at Aston Villa - who rolled over unconvincingly against a Swansea side who had failed to take more than a point on their travels this season, just two days after that famous win at Stamford Bridge.

Conversely, whilst the "McCleish Out!" banners are again held aloft at Villa Park after a brief hiatus, Chelsea now have the means to go about their business, with the priceless currency of confidence having materialised from very little here. When Stephen Ward equalised for Wolves in the 85th-minute of Monday's encounter, a collective sigh was let out from the away end. They knew that one was coming.

What few would have predicted was a late rally that demonstrates the sort of character that even the most die-hard of Chelsea fans would accept to have abandoned Villas-Boas' team altogether. Fernando Torres' vision was brilliant, as he played a clever ball that bisected the Wolves defence. Ashley Cole's previously-ceaseless motor may occasionally splutter out fumes, but there was no evidence of that here as he whizzed to the bi-line and drilled a ball between the goalkeeper and his defenders with pinpoint accuracy. And there was nothing untoward with Frank Lampard, either. 'Right place, right time' just about defines his career. One sliding finish later, and out of nowhere and in the space of minutes, Chelsea had seen victory snatched away from them, only to wrestle it back.

The Blues certainly rode their luck. Lampard's non-dismissal appears to be the major talking point, but Wolves were desperately unlucky with the chances they created. But for the visiting side's possession and pressure, it was the hosts who can boast having the best chances carved out during the 90 minutes. One fell to Roger Johnson, who, running around the back of the Chelsea defence, saw his near-post header cannon back off the woodwork. Ward then missed an even better opportunity as he headed a presentable chance wide when under very little pressure, whilst David Edwards will rue failing to get better contact on Henry's punt up-field.

As the final ten minutes approached, Chelsea began to sit deeper and deeper, inviting pressure from the home side. That pressure took its toll when Stephen Fletcher beat Jose Bosingwa in the area and crossed to Ward, who excellently volleyed home beyond Cech as Mick McCarthy's side finally profited from prolonged periods of possession. But fate looked down upon the home side with a cruel smile, as just as Chelsea had done so before them, Wolves, contented with a draw, looked to sit deep and defend the inevitable aerial bombardment of their goal.

However, such a bombardment never actually came. With a lack of natural width due to the missing Daniel Sturridge, the Blues were further thwarted by the absence of target-man Didier Drogba. Instead, Chelsea regrouped and conspired to play through the Wolves defence. They succeeded. Torres, who had looked sharp at times and had almost earlier picked out Juan Mata with a delicate slide-rule through-ball, only to be denied by Wayne Hennessey in the Wolves goal, this time was able to find his man with a clever pass. The beneficiary was Ashley Cole, who stole in to cross to the unmarked Lampard. Such a criminal offence deserves punishment, and Lampard duly obliged to slide home his 179th goal for the club. Not bad for a has-been.

There was still time for Wolves to have the last hurrah, but it was the right hand of Cech that made the telling contribution. A long throw-in was flicked on by Fletcher, who, in the short time he was on the pitch, absolutely tortured Jose Bosingwa to such an extent it was almost comical. Doyle looked to profit, but his glancing header was directed too close to the Chelsea goalkeeper. Nevertheless, the Czech had to react, and react he did; his stunning intervention the final act of a pulsating contest.

This game was certainly not short on spice. Five bookings in the space of nine first-half minutes brought the crowd into life, who had been left subdued by a fast-paced start from Chelsea. The Blues had been guilty of beginning slowly against both Fulham and Aston Villa, and a frustrating draw and a disastrous loss were the rewards for such haphazard performances. Yet despite their early zip and determination, goalscoring chances were fairly limited, with Hennessey's save from Mata and a brilliant sliding tackle from Richard Stearman to deny Lampard a shot on goal all to be shown for Chelsea's early dominance.

Serving as a means to ignite the Molineux faithful, that procession of yellow cards did well to stem Chelsea's flow, and thus Wolves entered the match with the belated backing of their supporters. Those presentable headed chances for Johnson and Ward soon came about as Wolves ended the half by some distance the more threatening of the two teams.

Villas-Boas had promised changes but all he did was put a defensive midfielder out on the right wing, and start Torres ahead of the injured Drogba. In fairness, the decision to put Ramires on the wing did offer Chelsea a pacey attacking outlet, and it was through the Brazilian that they took the lead early in the first half as he swivelled inside the area to fire home. John Terry had fashioned the chance with a commanding leap to flick on Mata's corner, and the Brazilian did well to lash home from close range. That was a bad omen for the home side, for when Ramires scores, Chelsea normally win.

The Brazilian then ought to have extended the lead but found a well-positioned Hennessey a difficult object to better as the goalkeeper patted away his angled drive after he had surged forward in chase of a weighted pass from Mata. Those two opportunities aside, Chelsea had found Wolves infuriatingly difficult to break down, and it was only in the 89th minute, through Torres' pass and Cole's movement, that the Blues were genuinely able to get behind the hosts' defence.

Chelsea were obviously missing Sturridge though Ramires was an ample substitute winger. Yet the lack of genuine width offered by the Blues is worrying, and this will surely serve as an advertisement to Villas-Boas that reinforcements in that area are paramount if Chelsea are to now put together a string of positive results. The opportunity for the manager to do that has arrived in the form of the January transfer window, and with Milos Krasic looking a likely addition on loan from Juventus, the Chelsea manager will hopefully be able to reignite his side's now-stagnant attacking potential. A free-scoring start to the season seems a long time ago now, but Villas-Boas will now have in his possession the crucial piece of the jigsaw that has been missing since that win over City - confidence.

This morale-boosting result comes at a welcome time for Chelsea Football Club - 2012 has seen a positive, winning start. Whether this heralds the dawn of an exciting year for the Blues is an entirely different question, but what is certain is this - the next few months can make or break this football club's long-term plans, for without Champions League football, the prospect of attracting some of Europe's best footballing talent seems somewhat limited...

...it is now do-or-die for Chelsea and AVB.

Wolves (4-4-1-1): Hennessey; Stearman, Johnson ©, Berra, Ward; Hammill, Frimpong (Fletcher 61), Henry, Forde (Jarvis 46); Edwards (Foley 75); Doyle.

Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Bosingwa, Luiz, Terry ©, Cole; Meireles, Romeu, Lampard; Ramires, Torres, Mata (McEachran 83).

The TalkChelsea.net STAR MAN is award to 7. RAMIRES of Chelsea.

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Reprieved Lampard leads late Chelsea rally

The dual alliteration is quite an "in-fashion" aspect of journalism at present... so... bollocks to you.


Haha, beat me to it. But I guess you did create it...

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