Anelka finds his touch to fire Blues

Chelsea 1 Bolton Wanderers 0
Click to follow
The Independent Football

It was almost five years ago at the Reebok Stadium that Chelsea's players climbed onto the roof of their team bus to celebrate the club's first league title in 50 years with their travelling support. They can only hope that last night's victory over Bolton Wanderers will prove similarly historic.

As has been the way under Carlo Ancelotti this season, Chelsea did it the hard way. They never definitively put Owen Coyle's team away, they survived two very promising penalty appeals from the away team and left their manager watching anxiously from the touchline with his hands plunged deep in his pockets counting away the seconds to the final whistle.

In the end Nicolas Anelka's first goal since 30 January was enough to win the game and Chelsea approach Saturday's meeting with Tottenham at White Hart Lane four points clear at the top of the Premier League. Sir Alex Ferguson's prophecy of an "easy" victory was not fulfilled but there was enough shakiness about Chelsea to suggest that this title race may yet have another twist in it.

There was a spectacular post-match rant from Coyle whose Glaswegian is so rapid that he should be fitted with a rewind button. The Bolton manager had a point about the handballs from Didier Drogba and John Terry in either half, both of which were turned down by referee Lee Probert, and his team did not embarrass themselves as Ferguson had predicted.

After Tottenham, Chelsea must negotiate Stoke City, Liverpool and Wigan if they are to deliver the fourth title in the club's history. When Jose Mourinho's double title-winning side revved up for the run-in there was a sense of inevitability about their progress. Ancelotti's team are much less predictable and consequently a lot more entertaining when it comes to seeing off the smaller clubs.

In his matchday programme notes, John Terry tried to conjure up some of the epic rhetoric that Mourinho liked to espouse at crucial stages of the season. Terry normally sticks to chronicling the training ground tomfoolery but yesterday he came over very serious. "When the opportunity arises, you have to seize it. When you seize it you can make history," Terry wrote. "Let's make history."

After the kind of season that Terry has had it would be fair to say that he has already made history himself – certainly no player has lost the England captaincy in such spectacular fashion. But he was talking about the possibility of a Premier League and FA Cup Double that has opened up for his team.

It was the sense that, despite their early Champions League elimination, Chelsea stand on the brink of an unprecedented achievement. It was a brave decision by Ancelotti to leave out Florent Malouda, but by the end he had the winger on the pitch in search of the elusive second goal.

Coyle picked a Bolton team that was not entirely defensive, selecting the Arsenal loan signing Jack Wilshere in the hole behind the main striker Kevin Davies. It was a brave way to go and the fairytale scenario that Wilshere had surely envisaged – scoring the goal that thrust Arsenal back into the title race box seat – never materialised.

Wilshere is a fascinating prospect, although he got so exasperated so often when the ball was not delivered direct to his feet that it made you wonder if he read the brochure before agreeing to join Bolton. Nevertheless, he did sell Drogba a delicious dummy that drew a clumsy foul from the Chelsea striker.

There was a first-half scare for Chelsea when Terry twisted his right ankle blocking a shot from Matt Taylor. For a few minutes it looked as if Terry, who could barely put any weight on his right foot, would find it impossible to play on but, for all his faults, the Chelsea captain does have a remarkable ability to shrug off the discomfort and carry on.

Yuri Zhirkov also clashed with Davies in a challenge that left a deep cut in the back of the Russian's head and blood everywhere. Patched up like a survivor from The Battleship Potemkin he was eventually ordered off by the referee Probert to get some treatment to stop him bleeding. He returned with four stitches in his head in time to play a part in Chelsea's goal.

Two minutes before the break, Zhirkov scurried after the ball and retrieved it in front of the Bolton area. He found Drogba on the left who struck a beautiful outswinging cross that Anelka headed past Jussi Jaaskelainen from close range. It was his 13th goal of the season – his previous one was 13 games ago.

In the first half, Drogba had appeared to punch Taylor's free-kick away as Davies went to head the ball. Terry's crafty block of Chung-yong Lee's cross looked equally blatant. Nevertheless, Bolton launched an impressive late onslaught. The substitute Johan Elmander should have done better with a back-post header from Taylor's cross that he steered just a few yards wide.

In injury-time the substitute Joe Cole got another inviting Zhirkov cross stuck under his feet when all he needed to do was tap it in for Chelsea's second goal. It was not quite what he would have wanted in front of the watching England manager Fabio Capello. It did not do Ancelotti's nerves any good either and you suspect he may have a few more experiences like this before 9 May.

Chelsea (4-1-3-2): Cech; Ferreira, Alex, Terry, Zhirkov; Mikel; Kalou (J Cole, 67), Ballack, Lampard; Anelka (Malouda, 67), Drogba. Substitutes not used: Hilario (gk), Deco, Sturridge, Bruma Van Aanholt.

Bolton (4-4-1-1): Jaaskelainen; Steinsson, Cahill, Knight, Robinson; Chung-Yong (Klasnic, 82), Muamba, Ricketts, Taylor; Wilshere (Elmander, 82); K Davies. Substitutes not used: Al Habsi (gk), Samuel, Elmander, M Davies, Klasnic, Cohen, Weiss.

Referee: L Probert (Wiltshire).

Booked: Chelsea Alex; Bolton Steinsson, Robinson, Davies, Elmander.

Man of the match: Zhirkov.

Attendance: 40,531.

Comments