Charlton Athletic 0 Chelsea 1: Lampard dampens Charlton's spirit

Chelsea maintain the heat on Manchester United - and are warmed by Terry's late cameo
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Remarkably, this fixture early last season was between the top two in the Premiership. Charlton have been on a downward spiral almost ever since, and yesterday's match comprised second bottom against second top. The oddity was the home side came closer in the end to stealing a point from it than last time.

During their best period, in the final 20 minutes, Petr Cech was forced to make two excellent saves from Amady Faye as Chelsea, less than imperious on the day, had to work much harder than expected to achieve the victory that takes them within three points of Manchester United, who play at Tottenham this after-noon. Once Frank Lampard scored his 17th goal of the season after 19 minutes they seemed likely to cruise it, but failed to maintain their domination in the second half, when Charlton's new spirit under Alan Pardew might conceivably have brought them another invaluable point.Jose Mourinho, never one to put style above substance in his teams, was merely happy to take the points and get on the bus, though not before praising the fighting qualities some of his squad have often lacked.

"It was not a game to play with the flair you want," he said. "It was about keeping a result." In that respect he was delighted to see Andriy Shevchenko putting himself about more enthusiastically than in the past. This time, however, the manager's very public handshake was reserved for his goalkeeper, and his other public praise was saved for Lampard: "Unique... fantastic."

Mourinho was right that it was not the best time to play Charlton, so supine earlier in the season but standing tall again after collecting four unexpected points from away games at Portsmouth and Bolton. Pardew took further encouragement, though no more points, from yesterday's efforts, knowing that the crucial games for his side come after this one and a visit to Manchester United on Saturday, when West Ham, Watford and Wigan provide the opposition in quick succession.

"The commitment and effort were fantastic, and if we can play with that spirit we'll have a good chance of staying in this division," he said. Defeat or not, only Wigan's victory against Portsmouth spoilt the day, carrying them five points ahead of the endangered London pair.

Pardew was determined to try to take the game to the opposition, which would have proved a big ask even without the absence of three of his most important players in Darren Bent, Andy Reid and Luke Young. The initial cunning plan involved Jerome Thomas, normally a winger, sitting on Claude Makelele to stop the Frenchman distributing the ball, which meant a lack of width down Charlton's left and had to be revised once Chelsea had taken the lead.

The goal was just punishment for Faye, guilty of losing the ball to Shevchenko 30 yards from his own net. The Ukrainian recovered possession and fed Lampard, whose low drive from outside the penalty area defeated a furious Scott Carson. Thomas then switched to his normal wide position, though the home side, for all their determination, continued to find it difficult to support the hard-working Marcus Bent, a lone striker.

There were few problems, therefore, for Michael Essien, remaining in central defence until John Terry was summoned from the substitutes' bench to protect the lead in the final few minutes. Wayne Bridge stood in impressively for Ashley Cole, as he is likely to do for England on Wednesday and was able to venture regularly down the left flank.

In the first half, Michael Ballack headed one of his crosses wide and Shevchenko met the next one with a firm header that was only just too high. A second Chelsea goal almost arrived right on half-time, England's Under-21 international goalkeeper Carson - who is certainly getting plenty of practice while on loan from Liverpool - having difficulty holding Lampard's fierce free-kick from fully 35 yards.

For the second half Pardew sent on Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink as a second striker and as the game wore on Charlton suddenly started to believe they might achieve the improbable. But Cech, in his protective pilot's helmet, commanded his area when long balls and free-kicks were punted forward and twice did splendidly to deny Faye, who had been put through by Bent and then Bryan Hughes. Mourinho confirmed that with Liver-pool dropping points, he is again looking upwards rather than downwards when studying the League table.

Comments