Ivanovic helps Mourinho to slay bogey men at Villa Park
Aston Villa 1 Chelsea 2
There was no hiding what this victory, his first in six visits to Villa Park, meant to Jose Mourinho. The Chelsea manager walked straight on to the pitch at the final whistle, punched the air and began waving his arms as if to conduct the away fans singing on the opposite side.
Back on his bogey ground, Mourinho had seen Aston Villa raise their game and end a goal drought stretching back to December yet a visiting team missing the suspended Diego Costa and injured Cesc Fabregas still took the points thanks to Branislav Ivanovic's second-half winner. In the process, Chelsea capitalised on Manchester City's slip-up against Hull City and moved seven points clear at the Premier League summit. Mourinho tried to play down their advantage - "There are 42 points to play for and a lead of seven is nothing in this country," he said - but it felt like his third Premier League title had just moved a touch closer and just to put the cherry on the cake, the Portuguese got one over on Paul Lambert, the Villa manager.
It was at Stamford Bridge earlier this season that Mourinho tried to shake the hands of Lambert and a distinctly unimpressed Roy Keane before the final whistle. There was no handshake yesterday, only some barbed comments afterwards from Chelsea's manager about Villa having one of "the best squads", "very good players" and a "fantastic stadium". Everything, in other words, but a good manager.
Mourinho was responding to a first-half row between Lambert and Rui Faria, Chelsea's assistant coach, which saw the Scot jabbing a finger at the visiting bench as tempers rose following a spot of Didier Drogba playacting. Lambert had his own dig back, saying: "Jose is a great manager, I would love to learn from him as football manager but I wouldn't like to learn things off the pitch from somebody in his dugout."
If this unseemly sideshow was typical Mourinho, this victory was typical Chelsea as they showed both quality and character to record their seventh away win of the campaign.
They took just eight minutes to take the lead with a goal that originated from an Ivanovic throw-in. Oscar did the hard work with a run from the halfway line before pulling the ball back for Willian who crossed low towards the six-yard box where Eden Hazard put just enough on the ball to steer it past Brad Guzan.
To their credit, Villa's heads did not drop and Gabriel Agbonlahor, playing in place of the dropped Christian Benteke, should have equalised but put a free header over the crossbar.
Yet if goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois looked vulnerable to crosses, Chelsea still carried the greater threat and might have had a second before the break with Oscar foiled by a near-post Guzan save and Ciaran Clark making a superb goal-saving challenge on Ramires.
"Apart from the first 15 minutes of the second half I think we had good control of game," said Mourinho, whose team were briefly knocked out of their stride by Villa's explosive start to the second period.
Tom Cleverley had already seen a shot deflected just over when Okore struck Villa's first Premier League goal in precisely 660 minutes. The impressive Carles Gil was the creator, the January signing from Valencia showing lovely footwork to escape Oscar before crossing to the far post where Okore buried a header. Yet Chelsea merely upped the tempo again and after Willian had twice gone close Ivanovic delivered the decisive blow.
Cesar Azpilicueta capitalised on Okore's failure at his near post by lifting the ball into the middle where Ivanovic, with a swing of his left leg, sent a fierce drive past Guzan.
"We showed good ambition after the equaliser and our second goal shows that - the left-back is in the box to cross and the right-back is in the box to finish," said Mourinho. "It is a very important victory."
For Villa, by contrast, it was a fourth straight league defeat ahead of Tuesday's six-pointer at Hull.
Sunday Indo Sport