Aston Villa vs Chelsea match report: Branislav Ivanovic hands Blues vital three points in close affair at Villa Park

Aston Villa 1 Chelsea 2

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The Independent Football

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 Chelsea, 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. Mourinho tried to played 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.

At Stamford Bridge earlier this season Mourinho tried to shake the hands of Paul Lambert, Villa’s manager, and a distinctly unimpressed Roy Keane before the final whistle. There was no handshake yesterday, only some barbed comments 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 play-acting.

Hazard opened the scoring with a lovely finish

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. Oscar did the hard work with a run from the halfway line before pulling the ball back for Willian, who crossed towards the six-yard box and Eden Hazard put just enough on the ball to steer it past Brad Guzan.

Jores Okore ended Aston Villa's 11-hour wait for a goal

Chelsea 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 Jores Okore struck Villa’s first Premier League goal in precisely 660 minutes. The impressive Carles Gil was the creator, showing lovely footwork to escape Oscar before crossing to the far post, where Okore buried a header.

Ivanovic fires home a beautifully struck left-footed volley

New signing Juan Cuadrado came on for the final 10 minutes

Yet Chelsea 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 diagonal drive past Guzan.

It was a fourth straight League defeat for Villa ahead of Tuesday’s six-pointer at Hull, but they will take some positives from their high-energy display – not least the performance of the Spaniard Gil, their January signing from Valencia.

Jose Mourinho's team now have a seven point lead

Aston Villa (4-5-1): Guzan; Hutton, Okore, Clark, Cissokho; Gil, Cleverley (Sinclair, 74), Westwood, Delph, Weimann (Cole 80); Agbonlahor (Benteke, 68).

Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Courtois; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta; Ramires, Matic; Willian (Cuadrado, 80), Oscar (Mikel, 73), Hazard; Drogba (Remy, 64).

Referee: Neil Swarbrick.

Man of the match: Ivanovic (Chelsea)

Match rating: 7/10