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Aston Villa 2-1 Chelsea


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logo2.jpgSaturday 17 October 2009, the FA Premier League, Villa Park, Birmingham

Chelsea slumped to a second consecutive away defeat after goals from Richard Dunne and James Collins cancelled out Didier Drogba's opener.

Didier Drogba opened the scoring with a speculative effort from distance - his seventh strike of the season - to give Chelsea a slender advantage that in truth had come against the run of play. Villa were impressive and restored parity when Richard Dunne netted his second goal for the club since joining from Manchester City; converting with a close-range header after Ashley Young's corner had inadvertently been flicked on by Frank Lampard. The comeback was complete when James Collins beat Petr Cech with a comprehensive header from another Young corner - his first game since scoring against the Blues in April 2006 in a 4-1 defeat for West Ham at Stamford Bridge.

The result - coupled with Manchester United's 2-1 triumph over Bolton Wanderers - means the Blues are a point off the top of the table, and with Manchester City and Arsenal having games in hand over Carlo Ancelotti's side, the Blues would do well to even maintain a top four place after an uncharacteristically poor defensive performance. Though imperious early on, Petr Cech was indecisive when coming to claim crosses, Ricardo Carvalho was outplayed throughout by the rampant Gabriel Agbonlahor, and José Bosingwa's poor showing was compounded by an injury late in the second half. Nicolas Anelka and Frank Lampard were unusually quiet, with the former still struggling for form and goals so far this season.

In truth, it was only Deco and captain John Terry who can take any plaudits from an otherwise-woeful team performance; the Portuguese midfielder was majestic and Terry was typically tenacious at the heart of the Chelsea defence.

Nevertheless the game was entirely enjoyable to watch, with both sides playing attractive, free-flowing football. Carlo Ancelotti rued basic defensive lapses following the final whistle, though he will be equally unhappy with the likes of Anelka and Malouda, who wasted good chances to equalise following Collins' eventual winning goal. The season may only be eight games old, but with two defeats suffered on the road already suggest the Barclays Premier League has never been so competitive. Chelsea will need to fight to win the title this season - and they'll do well towards clawing it back from bitter rivals Manchester United with a victory over Blackburn next week.

The game started relatively slowly but exploded to life when Bosingwa fouled Gabriel Agbonlahor inside the area, though stand-in referee Kevin Friend waved away Villa protests. Replays showed that the Portuguese was pulling back the in-form England forward, who was only inches away from converting a wonderful cross from Bulgarian midfielder Stilyan Petrov.

However Chelsea took the lead - somewhat against the run of play - as Drogba's turn and shot from 34 yards beat Brad Friedel. Though it was a decently-hit strike from the Ivorian forward, the American shot-stopper should have done better, allowing the ball to bounce into the net. Credit must go to Chelsea's number 11, though, whose 101st goal for the club was a very big one indeed. Drogba's seventh goal of the campaign already had settled early Chelsea nerves, and now the Blues were dominating, with Deco orchestrating in his role behind the two forwards.

But Chelsea - usually so imperious at defending - were left kicking themselves when Dunne headed home to draw Villa level. Chelsea - holders of the Premier League's best defensive record - fell foul to a decent delivery from Young, whose corner was flicked on by a miscued header by Lampard on the front post. Dunne was well placed, and angled the ball into the net from close range, with Cech beaten all ends up. Villa were deservedly back in the contest; Chelsea were furious with themselves. Lampard's accidental header would have caused less damage if Carvalho and Drogba had have kept with their markers; instead the two players allowed Dunne to break loose and bundle the ball home. Game on.

The first half was proving to be massively enjoyable; Friedel had to be at his best to tip a cheekily-executed shot from Deco over the bar before Collins produced a heroic block to deny Drogba space to shoot from close range after John Terry had slipped the ball into the Ivorian's feet. The first half ended with Chelsea the better of the two teams, but the scoreline was a fair reflection of the effort and endeavour shown by Martin O'Neill's side.

John Terry was left screaming in anger when James Collins headed Villa in front after Cech had attempted to come for a Young corner, only to stop when realising Collins would be first to the ball. Given far too much space in the area, with Carvalho again at fault, the former West Ham man made no mistake; beating Cech and Ashley Cole with a towering header.

Deco could then only poke straight at Friedel from close range after a superb Drogba pass had found the Portuguese magician inside the area. In fairness to the Chelsea number 20, Friedel had done excellently to race out and spread himself in front of the former Barcelona midfielder, and his palms were again stung moments later when Malouda engineered space on the edge of the box; his effort was parried and Villa cleared.

Chelsea were responding the way an Ancelotti side would always do - by committing to the attack. However they were leaving themselves open at the back, and only the alert presence of Michael Essien kept the Villa forwards quiet, though Young was enjoying himself against Bosingwa, who was having a torrid time of things against the England winger.

The one time the hosts troubled Chelsea in the closing moments was when Young switched the ball across the field to Milner, who in turn squared the ball to John Carew. The Norwegian could only poke the ball wide as he stretched to volley home. Chelsea should have been 3-1 down, but they will still in with a chance of pulling the game back from the gaping jaws of defeat.

However, Friedel denied Anelka with a fine stop as the game petered to a fairly uneventful end, with Villa playing out the final minutes in relative comfort inside the Chelsea side. It is not a result Chelsea fans will look at with much happiness - the Blues were lacking defensively and though the football was pretty, the ruthlessness of Guus Hiddink's winning machine seems some distance away. Last term, Chelsea were played off the park by Villa in Birmingham, but managed to take three points from the game. This season, the contest was far more even - but it was O'Neill's side that emerged victorious. There is plenty for Carlo Ancelotti to consider before the visit of Atletico de Madrid on Wednesday.

___________________________________________________________________

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Friedel; Cuellar, Collins, Dunne, Warnock; Milner, Sidwell, Petrov ©, Young; Carew (Heskey 81), Agbonlahor

Chelsea (4-4-2): Cech; Bosingwa (Ivanovic 68), Carvalho, Terry ©, A Cole; Essien; Lampard, Malouda (J Cole 84); Deco; Anelka, Drogba

The TalkChelsea.net Man of the Match was Aston Villa's number 5 - Richard Dunne

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