Chelsea were made to work hard for victory against ten-man Stoke City, with Didier Drogba’s strike proving the difference between the two sides in Roberto Di Matteo’s first Premier League match as manager of the Blues as Ricardo Fuller saw red.
The Italian, who failed to mention Andre Villas-Boas in his programme notes, made his mark on the side immediately, leaving Fernando Torres and Daniel Sturridge out of the starting line-up. John Terry was included, returning from injury for the caretaker boss.
It was his defensive colleague, Gary Cahill, who had one of the best early chances for the hosts though, with the centre back driving forward before hitting a shot that forced Asmir Begovic to palm behind for a corner.
After a positive start, things got even better for the hosts as Stoke were reduced to ten men on 25 minutes. Branislav Ivanovic slid to clear the danger from his own half, but Jamaican international Fuller left his mark on the Serb with a needless stamp that got the right punishment from the referee.
Chelsea couldn’t make their advantage count immediately though, as first Terry and then Ivanovic hit the woodwork before the interval.
Terry headed a Frank Lampard corner into the ground and onto the bar, before Ivanovic struck a fine half-volley onto the same part of the woodwork.
Things still weren’t going the Blues’ way after the break, as Begovic denied Drogba with a stunning tip over the bar as the Ivorian looked set to break the deadlock.
He didn’t have to wait long for his 100th Premier League goal though, with the 34-year-old calmly taking the ball past the Bosnian keeper and sliding home after a sumptuous pass from Spaniard Juan Mata on 68 minutes.
Lampard almost doubled the lead from distance, but the impressive Begovic was equal to the challenge, and his save gave Tony Pulis’ side some impetus to search for an equaliser.
First, Andy Wilkinson was unlucky with a long-range lob, before Cameron Jerome fired wide after coming off the substitutes bench.
The last word nearly went to Mata, who again looked a class apart for the hosts, but his late free-kick rattled the post as Di Matteo was left to settle for a one-goal victory.