Whether or not Roman Abramovich's inclination is to dispense with Andre Villas-Boas as Chelsea manager, his work is not entirely unappreciated by the club's hierarchy. The American chairman Bruce Buck listened in on the press conference after Saturday's comfortable victory as he often does and immediately offered "congratulations, Andre" on his way out. Buck had greeted the three goals that sank a feeble Bolton side with greater enthusiasm than the club's owner, who could barely raise a smile whenever the cameras homed in on him .
Villas-Boas looked and sounded understandably happier, even if a stubborn streak refused to acknowledge that he had picked the wrong team for last week's 3-1 defeat in Naples, seriously threatening Abramovich's greatest ambition, to win the Champions League. His explanation was essentially one of horses for courses, insisting that whereas two defensive midfielders were required for the 4-2-3-1 formation in Italy, Saturday's task was better suited to Chelsea's familiar old 4-3-3. That still did not quite explain the choice of personnel. Piqued or not, Frank Lampard came roaring back with a vintage performance, Michael Essien confirmed that he is still far more dynamic than Jon Obi Mikel and Ashley Cole made nonsense of any suggestion that Jose Bosingwa or Ryan Bertrand deserve the left-back berth.
It should of course be pointed out, at risk of making one of the understatements of the season, that Bolton are not Napoli. Even so they frustrated Chelsea and the home crowd until early in the second half, when defensive laxity allowed goals to David Luiz, Didier Drogba and then Lampard. Captain in John Terry's continued absence and wearing it well, Lampard led from the front, or the middle, making the late surging runs of old. He then felt emboldened to go just far enough in answering questions about his relationship with a manager who is only eight months his senior, saying: "It's not been ideal but the important thing is not to focus on individual situations because that can only be turned into a negative."
It was a clever response, followed by a reminder of how much Chelsea supporters appreciate a player who on Saturday reached 125 League goals for the club: "The way the fans were with me was amazing. It's lump-in-the-throat stuff when they sing your name like that."
Villas-Boas was prepared to acknowledge Lampard as "a fighter for his place" without guaranteeing him one at West Bromwich this Saturday and would have agreed with his captain's sentiments that: "There's been a lot of times this season where we've won a game and said 'we've turned the corner' but we haven't done it. So now we need to do it properly. This has to be the start, not another false dawn." The West Midlands will witness which of those possibilities proves to be the case, with an FA Cup replay at Birmingham following the trip to the Hawthorns. Then Stoke arrive at Stamford Bridge before Napoli four days later.
Bolton must endure a visit to Manchester City but then have a run of games against fellow strugglers that Owen Coyle believes can see them towards safety. They will need to be much tighter in defence, where the American Tim Ream did not enjoy his first Premier League appearance; this could easily have been a repeat of last October's 5-1 home defeat by Chelsea, except that Bolton never looked likely to score at all. Their former centre-half Gary Cahill had an easy afternoon in the absence of his great friend Kevin Davies.
Coyle said: "We've no doubt we've got good enough players to go win games. I appreciate everybody likes negative stories but the time for debating will be the end of the season." Villas-Boas just hopes to hang on that long. Linked with Internazionale on Saturday, Porto yesterday, his attitude is that he is looking forward to continuing the Chelsea "project" next season.
Chelsea: CECH 6/10; IVANOVIC 7; CAHILL 7; LUIZ 7; COLE 6; RAMIRES 7; ESSIEN 6; LAMPARD 8; STURRIDGE 7; DROGBA 6; MATA 7
Bolton: BOGDAN 6; RICKETTS 6; REAM 5; WHEATER 5; STEINSSON 5; MIYAICHI 7; REO-COKER 6; MUAMBA 6; PRATLEY 5; TUNCAY 5; NGOG 5
Scorers: Chelsea Luiz 48, Drogba 61, Lampard 79. Substitutes: Chelsea Torres (Drogba, 76), Kalou (Sturridge, 80), Mikel (Ramires, 88). Bolton Wanderers Sordell 5 (Ngog, 65), Eagles (Tuncay, 75).
Booked: Bolton Pratley.
Man of the match Lampard. Match rating 6/10.
Possession: Chelsea 60% Bolton 40%.
Attempts on target: Chelsea 16 Bolton 1.
Referee M Oliver (Northumberland).