Chelsea squeeze past stubborn Stoke
Chelsea 1-0 Stoke - Blues stay top of Premier League table thanks to late winner
Ashley Cole scored the only goal of the game late on to hand Chelsea all three points and keep Roberto Di Matteo’s side top of the Premier League table.
The Blues were made to sweat by an excellent Stoke performance, but Cole's goal five minutes from time earned a vital three points for Chelsea.
John Terry and Frank Lampard dropped to the bench after their mid-week excursions in the Champions League, but the Blues hero against Juventus, 21-year-old Brazilian Oscar, made his first start in the Premier League.
Chelsea started very brightly, forcing two corners in the first minute. With Juan Mata wide right, Oscar through the middle and Eden Hazard stationed wide left, the Blues kept possession well and the three linked superbly early on.
But Stoke defended stoically, Tony Pulis’ side always most comfortable when attacking high balls into the box, but surprisingly they were the first to carve out a real opening. A superb Glenn Whelan free-kick was attacked well by Jonathan Walters but the Stoke forward could only hit the crossbar. He really should have scored.
Fernando Torres was to waste Chelsea’s best chance of the first half. An excellent Juan Mata through ball unlocked the Stoke defence but Torres missed his kick from six yards out.
The second half fell into a familiar pattern, Chelsea controlling possession but Stoke carrying a latent threat. Five minutes into the half Oscar went down under the slightest of contacts from Shawcross. The Brazilian’s awful acting correctly led to a yellow card from referee Michael Oliver.
After his mid-week heroics Oscar was on the periphery, and the Blues could have done with their old number 11 Didier Drogba as Stoke pairing Huth and Shawcross physically dominated the Chelsea attack.
Stoke boss Tony Pulis looks like he’s put together an excellent team here, strong at the back and dangerous on the break, especially with Peter Crouch winning every header up front.
Rangy midfielder Steve N’Zonzi led forages forward at every opportunity, and Pulis' side looked dangerous, but their hearts were broken late on.
Frank Lampard entered the fray with 10 minutes to go, Roberto Di Matteo drawing on the old guard after the fresh faces failed to unpick a stubborn Stoke backline. And it was to be old Chelsea favourite - albeit not Lampard - who was to eventually break the deadlock.
With five minutes to play, and a draw looking likely, Ashley Cole popped up at the back post to fire Chelsea into the lead. He needed two bites at the cherry, but the England left-back prodded the ball past Asmir Begovic to give the Blues a vital lead. A nervous Stamford Bridge erupted.
Roberto Di Matteo threw on John Terry in an effort to see out the result, and the Blues did just that.
It was harsh on Stoke, who were excellent throughout, but Chelsea stay top of the Premier League table. A 1-0 victory the narrowest of margins, but with Arsenal, Manchester City, and Manchester United all to play tomorrow, Roberto Di Matteo will be pleased his side extended their advantage.