Anelka keeps Chelsea express on track
Published 14/04/2010 | 05:00
Chelsea made hard work of their "easy game," in Alex Ferguson's estimation, but they still inched closer towards taking the title off Manchester United.
Nicolas Anelka's first-half header, elegantly created by Didier Drogba, lifted Carlo Ancelotti's side four points clear with four games remaining.
Chelsea seemed plagued by final-lap nerves, although they were simply not allowed to settle by Owen Coyle's energetic, well-organised side.
Kevin Davies and Jack Wilshere troubled Chelsea's defence and when the final whistle blew, the roar around the Bridge could have been heard in a certain Wilmslow household.
Ancelotti had elected to rest Florent Malouda, who at least had the consolation of receiving the Barclays Player of the Month award for March before joining Deco and Joe Cole on the bench.
Anelka assumed Malouda's role attacking down the left, tucked inside as Chelsea used a Christmas tree formation, although his first-half goal arrived when momentarily switching positions with Drogba.
Until that productive, if temporary swap, Drogba had charged through the middle, given an early chance after Yuri Zhirkov glided past Chung-Yong Lee and Frank Lampard dummied.
The ball sped through to Drogba, whose shot flew over.
For a while Chelsea seemed distracted after John Terry went down, and stayed down for a minute after taking a knock on his ankle in making a block tackle on Matty Taylor.
Swift attention came from Lee Probert, who had replaced Chris Foy after the latter was named referee for the FA Cup final involving Chelsea and Portsmouth.
Probert checked on Terry, who eventually limped back into the fray, much to the relief of the watching Fabio Capello.
The double-chasers lacked concentration for a 15-minute period, allowing Bolton moments of hope. Coyle's visitors were far from overawed, far from parking the bus.
Two banks of four blocked Chelsea's path towards Jussi Jaaskelainen's goal for 44 minutes, but there were some inventive touches from Wilshere off the target man, Davies.
For a speck of a player physically, Wilshere lacks nothing in heart, flying into a tackle on Lampard, nicking the ball and then charging upfield only to be knocked over by Drogba.
His night's work also entailed attempting to close down John Obi Mikel when ever Chelsea's anchorman sought to launch attacks from the deep.
Before Chelsea regained their composure, Bolton almost scored. When Lee, lively throughout, clipped a cross to the far post, Petr Cech fumbled, allowing Taylor a glimpse of goal until Paulo Ferreira slammed shut the window of opportunity.
Back came Bolton again, Taylor's shot diverted by Terry.
Chelsea's captain was not the only one of Ancelotti's defenders in the wars. Zhirkov took the full force of Davies' forehead in the back of his head, sending blood spilling down his face. A bandage briefly staunched the flow, Zhirkov resembling the Butcher of the Bridge. Bruised and bloodied, Chelsea showed their character, building towards goal.
Drogba's free-kick drew a strange response from Jaaskelainen, who punched the ball straight at Salomon Kalou's head and was relieved as the ball rebounded wide.
Zhirkov then disappeared down the tunnel for stitches, requiring Terry, then Lampard, to slot in at left-back. He stormed back on, minus the bandage, just a smear of Vaseline covering the wound, and charged upfield as if back on the wing during his formative years at Spartak Tambov.
Yet the best piece of wing-play came from Drogba a minute from the break, helping sweep Chelsea ahead.
After a lengthy period of debate over whether Drogba and Anelka can play together, an understandable discussion point after Anelka's prolific prominence during Drogba's absence at the African Cup of Nations, the pair combined brilliantly.
Drogba's cross was a gem, the ball struck to fade away from Jaaskelainen and on to the head of Anelka, who scored with ease.
It was Anelka's first goal since Jan 30 against Burnley and certainly injected some calm into home hearts.
If Anelka's goal delighted the Bridge, a cheer almost as loud erupted at half-time when Peter Bonetti was presented on the pitch, looking as sprightly as ever.
Coyle has instilled belief into Bolton and they kept worrying Terry's defence
Davies imposed himself physically, and nastily when catching Mikel. Wilshere's shimmering presence alarmed Chelsea.
Never giving up, Bolton screamed for a penalty when Lee's cross appeared to be handled by Terry, although the linesman indicated that it had struck the defender's chest and shoulder. A major call, and one could almost hear the growl of disapproval emanating from Cheshire.
Sensing the threat of a turning tide, Ancelotti sent on Malouda, although Anelka looked mildly perplexed by his removal. Joe Cole soon arrived, but it was his England team-mate, Lampard, who almost scored the second, a low drive that hit the post. Michael Ballack then headed straight at Jaaskelainen and Terry drove just wide.
Coyle unleashed all his strikers, sending on Johan Elmander and Ivan Klasnic, who shot wide.
Chelsea should have ended any anxiety, but the ball stuck under Cole's feet with the goal at his mercy.
No matter --Chelsea took another step towards the title. (©Daily Telegraph, London).