Birmingham City 0, Chelsea 1: Pizarro pounces to keep depleted Chelsea in chase

Avram Grant may not provide the verbal pyrotechnics offered by his predecessor as Chelsea manager, but in his more measured way he can communicate just as effectively.

In the wake of a suitably measured victory that keeps his depleted team in the chase for the Premier League title, Grant summed up the afternoon's hectic activity with perfect simplicity. "Birmingham played with high spirit," he said. "They fought very well. But we were better."

There is depletion and depletion, of course. While the visitors may currently lack key players through the centre of their team in John Terry and Frank Lampard – both injured – and Didier Drogba – on duty at the African Nations Cup – their replacements – Ricardo Carvalho, Michael Ballack and the £15m signing Nicolas Anelka, making his first start for the Blues – are hardly sub-standard.

The latter showed scintillating flashes of class, linking up with the similarly deft Joe Cole in a fashion which promises riches ahead for the Stamford Bridge faithful, whether Drogba stays there long term or not. The ankle injury which forced the early departure of Shaun Wright-Phillips will almost certainly deprive Chelsea of his services at Everton on Wednesday as they contest the second leg of their Carling Cup semi-final. But Joe Cole believes the team can maintain momentum until the injured and absentees return. "We've shown, in the last few months, what we're capable of," he said. "We've lost some important players but the club is what is important and we keep sticking together and we keep moving forward.

"We didn't expect Manchester United or Arsenal to drop points today; they're games you look at and think they are must-win games, with no disrespect to any of the teams they were playing. If you are going to win the League you have to come to places like this and win. It wasn't pretty.

"If you really look at the games we've played this season, maybe in two or three matches we haven't really performed – today could have been classed as one of them. But we are good at winning games."

This game was not won until 11 minutes from the end, when the substitute, Claudio Pizarro, who had laboured with little effectiveness for much of the game, took advantage of a lapse in concentration at the heart of the Birmingham defence as he arrived late at the near post to crash a header high into the net from Florent Malouda's corner from the right.

There was heartfelt celebration by his team-mates. But once Drogba returns, and Andrei Shevchenko shakes off his latest injury, the Peruvian is likely to find it increasingly difficult to get into the side. Grant insisted though that Pizarro has a future at the club. "We don't hold players who don't," Grant said. "Claudio is not so quick, but he is clever on the ball. He is not a typical striker, he is more of a second striker."

Typical or not, Pizarro made the crucial difference to his team on the day, although Chelsea almost made life harder for themselves with a farcical passage of play in defence seven minutes before half-time which saw an increasingly discomforted Petr Cech receiving the ball to his feet successively from Ashley Cole and Alex under increasing pressure from the motivated opposition.

With awful inevitability, Cech's hurried boot clear found the head of Cameron Jerome on the edge of the area, and Birmingham's centre forward merely had to remain standing to send the ball back towards the untenanted goal. Luckily for Chelsea, it hit the post and bounced clear.

For all the gaps, Grant maintains he is happy with his squad. Birmingham's manager, Alex McLeish, however, who gave a debut to his £5m signing from Everton, James McFadden, is still seeking to bolster a defence that remains high on commitment but perilously low on distribution.

Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
fashion
News
news... you won't believe how bad their skills were
News
people

Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright and Mark Wright
tvStrictly goes head-to-head with Apprentice
Sport
footballPremier League preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's clashes
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas