Sport Soccer

Saturday 18 November 2017

Chelsea do their talking on the pitch to strengthen lead


Paul Wilson at Turf Moor

He must have been expecting an uncomfortable evening, he most have known the whole country would be watching his every move, yet in the event Brian Laws' first home game in charge of Burnley was not going too badly at all until John Terry robbed him of the limelight by scoring the winner seven minutes from time.

Sometimes it is impossible to believe these things are not scripted.

Chelsea had been pegged back after taking a first-half lead and their forward players were starting to looked a bit ragged as they searched in vain for a way to break down the home defence, until the captain went up for a corner and scored with a downward header from near the penalty spot.

It was genuinely no surprise, since Terry went about his business here as if nothing had happened, which took some doing, even for someone with a reputation for playing away.

Facing down his detractors with an expression of stone, Terry endured the boos and kept Burnley's attack at bay before getting forward at the end to rescue his attack.

The Burnley crowd did not hurl anything particularly witty or vindictive at the England captain in any case, and as Tony Blair's former press officer and ardent Burnley supporter Alastair Campbell turned up at half-time for a presentation, Terry may not even have been the most unpopular person on the pitch.

Chelsea spent too much of the first half-hour trying to hit long balls from their own half and generally failing to find Nicolas Anelka or Joe Cole in forward positions. Frank Lampard did hit an early chance over the bar and Anelka had a brief shooting opportunity that he uncharacteristically fluffed, but Chelsea showed little of the passing fluency and movement that had enabled them to make short work of Preston on their last visit to the north-west of England last week.

Burnley moved the ball around better in the opening stages, and had begun to create opportunities around the visitors' penalty area for Chris Eagles and Steven Fletcher when Chelsea suddenly pounced, as they are always capable of doing.

The move for the opening goal began with Petr Cech and ended with neat interplay between Chelsea's front three. After the goalkeeper had rolled the ball out Joe Cole made progress down the right wing, before hitting a deep cross to find Florent Malouda cutting in from the left.

With the defence pulled apart it was a simple matter for Malouda to lay the ball back across goal for Anelka to score his 12th goal of the season with a tap-in.

Anelka then popped up in his own penalty area, after Terry and Andre Bikey had gone into the referee's book for separate fouls, to head clear from a Robbie Blake free kick. The French striker is not just back to his goalscoring best, he works selflessly for the team in a manner that was not always evident at any of his previous clubs.

The closest the first half came to a second goal was on the stroke of the interval, when Anelka played a clever through ball that split the Burnley defence but just ran too far ahead of Yuri Zhirkov's outstretched leg.

If Chelsea imagined they were in for an easy ride in the second half they were quickly disabused of the notion when Burnley equalised with their first real attack of any note. The deftest of first touches allowed Steven Fletcher to pluck Blake's lofted pass from the air and wrongfoot Alex in the process, and though the defender briefly appeared to recover himself to get a foot in the ball broke kindly off Fletcher's chest and he lost no time in beating Cech with an angled shot.

All Chelsea's urgency came back after that and they laid siege to the Burnley goal for the final half-hour. Joe Cole headed in but was pulled up for offside and Lampard pulled a shot across the face of goal before Ashley Cole was denied a shooting opportunity by Clarke Carlisle getting a firm foot in the way.

The left-back made way for Deco shortly afterwards, an attacking substitution by a manager keen to win the game, before Carlo Ancelotti realised his unflustered captain was about to do that for him.

Whatever one thinks about Terry, he is always going to be popular with managers for what he produces on the pitch.

As for Chelsea, this could be a defining few days in their bid to regain the Premier League title. With Manchester United and Arsenal going head to head today, Ancelotti's team play their game in hand at Hull on Tuesday night. A four-point cushion with a game in hand probably feels good this morning.

Sunday Independent

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