Wigan Athletic 1 Chelsea 2: Anelka delivers knockout punch

Injury-prone England defender keen on £7m return to Newcastle after turning down Tottenham
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The Independent Online

Nicholas Anelka's first goal for Chelsea set up the Carling Cup finalists for progress on another front. Anelka broke his duck with a brilliantly taken if hotly disputed goal after 53 minutes of an undistinguished FA Cup fourth-round tie.

He then turned unselfish provider eight minutes from the end to present Shaun Wright-Phillips with his side's second, effectively settling a match which Chelsea had always struggled to dominate.

In the time remaining, the Wigan substitute Antoine Sibierski pulled one back when he took the ball on his chest and volleyed in on the turn and Marcus Bent skimmed the bar when threatening an equaliser. In the final analysis, however, Chelsea and Anelka had done just enough to stay in the running for four trophies.

"One goal and one assist," said Anelka's manager Avram Grant about his most eye-catching contribution so far. "He was very, very good today and it's not easy to play football on this pitch."

The Frenchman made it look easy enough when he timed his run to perfection to claim his first strike for his new club. Ryan Taylor, who had been brought in by Wigan for the transferred Denny Landzaat, lost possession in midfield and Juliano Belletti played in what looked merely a hopeful long ball.

Anelka, lurking just onside, arrived in time to meet the ball and guide it over the head of the advancing Chris Kirkland. Paul Scharner was booked for leading the protests that insisted he had been offside, but replays suggested that he had been level with the last man, Scharner himself, at worst and had thus got it exactly right. That was the view of the Wigan manager, Steve Bruce. "If we've tried to play offside, we're at fault," he said. "You can't take that risk with someone like Anelka.

"It's the one thing we've talked about for the last three days. He's always on your shoulder, always on the verge of being offside. It's another individual error and it's cost us the game."

It did not help their cause that Wigan were opened up so easily for a second. Again it was an optimistic long punt that paved the way, this time from the substitute, Paulo Ferreira. Anelka got rid of his markers rather too easily and rolled the ball square to give Wright-Phillips a tap-in when he could probably have scored himself.

Wigan's surge came too late, but they had been the better side for the middle section of a game in which the football never quite mastered the deteriorating playing surface.

Chelsea had started brightly enough, with Joe Cole missing a reasonable chance in the first minute, but gradually the game came to be played more and more in the air. The major excitement came when both benches got into a heated debate after Michael Brown appeared to floor Claude Makelele with a stray arm.

Grant and Bruce yelled across the no-man's land separating the technical areas, but the Chelsea manager explained afterwards that he had not seen the incident and was angry because Uriah Rennie was allowing play to go on while Makelele was injured on the ground.

It was the end of a very satisfactory week for Chelsea, especially in view of how depleted their squad is at the moment.

"This week has told me what I thought before," said Grant. "The players have developed very well in the last two or three months."

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