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Sunderland 0 - 1 Chelsea


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Sunderland AFC 0 - 1 Chelsea FC

March 15 2008, Premier League, Gameweek 30, Stadium of Light, Sunderland

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John Terry netted his first Chelsea goal in 19 months to ensure three vital points in the race for the Premier League title.


The Chelsea skipper, who had failed to score in competitive football for the Blues since their 3-0 victory over Manchester City in August 2006, rose highest from a Frank Lampard corner to head home and earn the West London outfit a useful win over Sunderland. And with title rivals Arsenal failing to beat Middlesbrough at the Emirates stadium, it was going to take a dogged performance to ensure the gap between third and second was cut to just three points.

Avram Grant decided to rest Ricardo Carvalho and Claude Makelele; the experienced duo at the spine of the team having played the majority of Chelsea's fixtures over the past three months. In came the more physical presence of Alex da Costa to partner John Terry at the back, whilst Nigerian John Obi Mikel was preferred to sit in front of the defence. Didier Drogba replaced Nicolas Anelka in the only other change to the side that thrashed Derby 6-1 in midweek, with Carlo Cudicini continuing to deputise for Petr Cech.

Chelsea began the match the more urgent of the teams as Sunderland's apparent game plan was to defend and allow the former champions to attack. After a strong spell of pressure, John Terry rose the highest at the near post from a superb Frank Lampard and thundered the ball beyond goalkeeper Craig Gordon to put Chelsea 1-0 up. It was the first goal of the season for the Chelsea skipper and he celebrated with the fans as the Blues looked to continue their recent good form.

Kalou was rampant early on and his wing partnership with Joe Cole was paying dividends. Chelsea were using their width to open up the congested Sunderland defence but both Frank Lampard and Michael Ballack were looking slightly leggy and not fully match fit, an indication of the fixture congestion that Chelsea have been forced to battle through. Kalou played a brilliant one-two with compatriot Didier Drogba and would have had an easy tap-in had the excellence of Phil Bardsley not prevent him a one-on-one with Gordon. Cole went close moments later following a brilliant link-up between his namesake Ashley and Frank Lampard, but the Black Cats were standing firm.

Avram Grant had selected Alex ahead of Carvalho due to the Brazilian's strength and power, but Chelsea were clearly missing the intelligence of Ricardo Carvalho, the regular marshal of the Blues' defence. Carlos Edwards wastefully volleyed over unmarked from 12 yards, though the angle was an inviting one and the Sunderland winger should have done better on his favoured right foot. Carlo Cudicini had to be at his best moments afterwards, brilliantly tipping away a wonderful free kick by Irishman Reid; the Italian shotstopper flinging himself across the goal to palm the ball away - a hallmark to the Carlo Cudicini of 2002/03 which saw the Chelsea goalkeeper earn the Premier League golden gloves.

The pace of O'Donovan was causing problems for the Chelsea defence, though Carlo Cudicini reacted brilliantly to pluck the ball out of the air before the Sunderland player could head home moments before the same player headed weakly goalwards, only to see Cudicini get down smartly to clutch the ball with two grateful hands. The Italian was also fast off his line to deny the Irishman, who left a foot in as the Italian stole the ball away. Cudicini was incensed as memories of that fatal clash between Petr Cech and Reading's Steven Hunt were refreshed in Chelsea minds.

Moments before the half-time whistle, Grant's side could have wrapped up the win when Lampard broke through. The in-form midfielder shot across goal, forcing a good save out of the Scottish international Gordon. The fast pace of the game would continue in the second half, though it was Sunderland who started the stronger following the interval.

Cudicini could only palm away a stinger from Grant Leadbitter before Collins wastefully headed wide at the far post with just the goalkeeper to beat from the resulting corner. John Obi Mikel did excellently with 70 minutes on the clock to hack away a cross from the left and direct the ball out of play for a corner, before substitute Dwight Yorke began to turn the screw.

The experienced midfielder launched a series of searching balls forward throughout the latter stages and the best chances that fell to the home side were a result of the Trinidad and Tobago player's long-range passing. Launching the ball to Kenwyne Jones, the former Southampton man headed straight into Cudicini's hands and later ballooned another attempt over the bar. Sunderland's main goal threat was uncharacteristically sluggish and lacking his usual composure in front of goal. Leadbitter spun excellently outside of the area and shot just wide of Cudicini's near post in stoppage time, whilst Drogba went close with a dipping free kick at the other end. Chelsea hung on for the victory to claim their ninth win in 12 Premier League matches.
______________________________________

Match Fact : At this stage last season, Chelsea had amassed 68 points – four more than their total thus far this campaign.

Sunderland: Gordon, Bardsley, Evans, Nosworthy, Collins, Edwards (Prica 62), O'Donovan (Yorke 73), Whitehead, Leadbitter (Harte 85), Reid, Jones

Chelsea: Cudicini (8), Ferreira (6), Alex (6), Terry (7), Ashley Cole (7), Mikel (7), Ballack (5) (Essien (6)), Lampard (6), Joe Cole (7) (Wright-Phillips (6)), Kalou (7), Drogba (6)

Attendance: 44,679

Referee: Mike Dean

Man of the Match : Carlo Cudicini

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