No Premier League title and no John Terry either. Or so we thought. Just as Chelsea have shown remarkable powers of recovery this season, then so, most of all, has their captain. His reputation for brushing off injury is legendary but when he went down early in the first half, clattered, ironically, by his own goalkeeper Petr Cech, it did not look good.
Rumours swept around the ground that he had broken his arm. Actually, X-rays showed he had only dislocated his elbow. After the game, Terry told the expectant crowd: "It's not broken. So, hopefully, I'll be all right." That hope may prove vain – his manager, Avram Grant, was more circumspect – but Terry expects to be all right for the Champions League final a week on Wednesday. For the European Cup is what Chelsea have to aim for after missing the chance to win a third title in four years.
In the end it did not go down to goal difference. Chelsea conceded with almost the last kick thanks to a piece of appalling defending by Alex – a stand-in for the injured Ricardo Carvalho – which gave the indefatigable Matt Taylor the opportunity to drive a sweet, left-foot shot through Cech's legs. By then, though, the game was up.
The game may also almost be up for Didier Drogba – who sat on the pitch, his left knee heavily strapped, with his friend Florent Malouda afterwards looking as if he was soaking it all up for the last time – and Grant. The manager received polite applause as he patrolled the circumference of the pitch, far behind his coaching staff and players, shaking hands. But, as ever, he appeared slightly ill at ease.
Roman Abramovich was here also. For the first time in almost two months the Russian billionaire appeared at the club where he has spent almost £500m. In sunglasses and open-necked shirt he clapped along but disappeared before Grant, too, took the microphone to talk to the supporters. Too much can be read into that. Grant certainly believes he will survive. He may do but that may be because of default. The indications are he will be replaced if the right replacement can be found.
It was a sweltering, surreal afternoon. Twice cheers rolled around Stamford Bridge with claims that Wigan Athletic had scored. Twice they were false. They even distracted the Chelsea bench, with goalkeeping coach Christophe Lollichon animatedly asking if it was true.
Lollichon may also have taken a keener-than-most interest in the team-sheets. Bolton, accused of too much partying before this game after sealing their own survival, named two goalkeepers among their substitutes. When their manager, Gary Megson, donned a Chelsea cap towards the end of the first-half, to protect himself against the fierce sun, it appeared the conspiracies were complete. But Megson, wisely, ordered the cap's badge to be taped over and his team, also, made an impressive fist of smothering Chelsea's efforts.
The heat did not help but Bolton defended equally ferociously. Time and again Gary Cahill, Andy O'Brien and Gretar Steinsson threw themselves in front of opposition players while Ali Al Habsi proved an alert, agile goalkeeper. Drogba could have settled nerves, but failed to turn Michael Ballack's low cross into the net before Joe Cole and Drogba were thwarted by fine last-ditch challenges. Drogba then turned a free-kick narrowly wide.
At half-time, Andrei Shevchenko, in the absence of Nicolas Anelka who, under the terms of his move from Bolton was barred from playing, was brought on. Abramovich would have approved and approved further when the Ukrainian secured the lead. It came after Joe Cole's shot was blocked from a corner and the ball fell to Frank Lampard, who fired it across goal. Shevchenko swung a right boot at it, made half a contact and beat Al Habsi.
Before then Chelsea had struck the bar, when Malouda's shot looped off Cahill only for Al Habsi to flick it onto the bar. They should have gone further ahead when Drogba powered through only for his shot to be pushed over by Al Habsi.
Then Bolton started to work their way back into contest. Maybe it was the scoreline at the JJB Stadium, but Chelsea lost a little heart. The ball came in, Taylor turned it goalwards and El Hadji Diouf's point-blank shot was blocked by Cech. Then Cech punched the ball straight to Taylor who looped a header towards goal. It struck the bar and dropped to the substitute Stelios Giannakopoulos, who turned it wide. Bolton attacked again. A free header for Kevin Davies was planted straight at Cech before he was finally beaten by Taylor.
Goals: Shevchenko (62) 1-0; Taylor (90) 1-1.
Chelsea (4-1-2-3): Cech; Essien, Alex, Terry (Belletti, 14), A Cole; Makelele (Shevchenko, 46); Ballack, Lampard; J Cole (Mikel, 78), Drogba, Malouda. Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Kalou.
Bolton Wanderers (4-3-2-1): Al Habsi; Steinson, A O'Brien, Cahill, Samuel; McCann, Nolan, J O'Brien; Davies, Taylor; Diouf (Giannakopoulos, 69). Substitutes not used: Walker (gk), Jaaskelainen (gk), Meite, Cohen.
Referee: C Foy (Merseyside).
Booked: Chelsea Drogba; Bolton J O'Brien, McCann, Davies.
Man of the match: Taylor.
Attendance: 41,755.Reuse content