Saturday, 26 November 2011

Chelsea Secure Vital Wolves Win

Chelsea avoided a third successive home Premier League defeat with a convincing and desperately needed victory over struggling Wolves.

Skipper John Terry headed the hosts ahead early on and close-range strikes from Daniel Sturridge and Juan Mata meant the match was as good as settled by the interval.

And, although the Blues had numerous chances to add to their lead after the break, under-pressure manager Andre-Villas Boas will just be relieved to restore some confidence after a dreadful run.

Having lost three of their last five league games - and with two wins from seven in all competitions - anything but a victory was unthinkable for Villas-Boas.

The early signs were good for the home side and settled an edgy Stamford Bridge crowd.

Raul Meireles sent a bobbling shot across goal and narrowly wide, while man-of-the-match Ramires went even closer when, after robbing the ponderous Nenad Milijas in midfield, his low strike was brilliantly diverted wide by goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey.

From the resulting corner Blues skipper Terry truly settled the nerves, meeting Mata's centre at the front post and sending the ball into the far corner.

Terry's programme notes had talked of the need to stand up, take responsibility and get back to winning ways before the title race drifts away.

And his goal certainly backed up his words and laid the platform for a vital win against a Wolves side who struggled to retain possession in the face of a bustling and energetic home midfield display.

Mata, Ramires and Meireles enjoyed too much freedom and Oriol Romeu, who was making his first league start in place of Frank Lampard, had a remarkably easy afternoon dictating the play from just in front of the back four.

Daniel Sturridge scored his sixth Premier League goal of the season, twice as many as Fernando Torres and Didier Drogba combined

Mata smashed a shot over the bar following good work by Branislav Ivanovic on the right.

But Chelsea were particularly threatening on the left and Meireles and Mata combined superbly to set up the second goal when the Spaniard eluded Ronald Zubar's desperate challenge and picked out Sturridge, who guided the ball home from six yards.

Wolves had looked lively enough until that 29th-minute goal. But, although Stephen Ward then sent a header over the bar and the visitors brought on Sylvan Ebanks-Blake for Milijas and went with two up front, their defence was creaking under the incessant home pressure.

Sturridge almost added a third when he cut in from the right and unleashed a vicious, left-foot strike that Hennessey untidily palmed away.

And Mata did make it three seconds before the interval, turning in Ashley Cole's inviting left-wing cross after Didier Drogba's initial burst on the left flank.

To their credit, Wolves responded and enjoyed their best spell just after the break. Steven Fletcher shot just wide and a sustained spell of pressure saw several close calls for the home defence.

Chelsea still created the better openings and an out-of-sorts Drogba fired an effort wide and Hennessey produced a fine double save to keep out fierce Sturridge and Mata strikes.

Blues keeper Petr Cech pulled off an equally impressive double block to deny Matthew Jarvis and Fletcher.

But neither side could find a goal in the second half and Chelsea held on to secure only their third clean sheet in the league this season.

However, welcome as the shut-out was, Villas-Boas will know this victory was a necessity and sterner tests are to come against in-form Newcastle and Manchester City in the coming weeks - not to mention the Champions League showdown with Valencia.

Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas said:
"I think we can (win the title). We have most of the same players (who have won the title before). We have the talent and belief will be the last thing to die with us.

"In my opinion chaos happened. We were exposed a couple of times with group mistakes (in recent games).

"Now we have to correct them to make sure we are on the right track. It's a good challenge for the team and hopefully we can now respond in this period."

Wolves manager Mick McCarthy said:
"It was not good enough from us. At half-time I asked them to salvage a bit of pride and self-respect.

"Our fans were fabulous. They paid £50 and at least we gave them something to cheer.

"Although we did not brighten their experience too much, at least we gave them something to cheer about in the second half."