Chelsea 1 West Ham Utd 0: Net king Cole nails Hammers

Chelsea march on under cheerless Grant as Curbishley pays for tactics
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The Independent Football

Avram Grant, the antithesis of the flamboyant Jose Mourinho, could have been discussing the funeral requirements of the recently bereaved as he reflected on Chelsea's 70th home match without defeat, Joe Cole's winner against his former club, eight cautions in total and victory which thrusts the club back into title contention.

Asked if Chelsea could indeed be considered to be aspirants for the Premier League again, the Israeli remarked stonily: "I told you from the beginning that I prefer to make things work on the pitch then to talk. You can work that out for yourselves."

Those of us so richly rewarded with pearls of frequently outrageous wisdom from the Portuguese, even after so mundane a confrontation as this, could only lament how things have changed since the Special One departed. Yet, the Blues fans will not object to that one iota as they witness their team continue their discreet progress up the League under Mourinho's successor.

On a day when Didier Drogba, a persistent menace to the Hammers throughout, complained to fourth official Steve Tanner about a "laser light" being shone in his eyes from the West Ham contingent, there was precious little to dazzle the crowd here. Even the West Ham manager, Alan Curbishley, while lamenting not getting a draw "that most people would have felt was a fair result" conceded that "we did not really fashion the chance that was going to hurt Cudicini". He asserted that West Ham had arrived "to match up, stop them dictating the game and that's what we did. But perhaps I didn't have enough going the other way." He can say that again.

There was Nobby Solano nipping in and almost deceiving Chelsea's rearguard just after the half-hour with a clever lob which finished on the roof of the net with Carlo Cudicini back-tracking. Luis Boa Morte had a sniff, but John Terry was able to take the sting off the shot to aid his goalkeeper. In the second half, Scott Parker dispatched a curled effort at Cudicini. And, well, that was about it.

The Hammers will attribute their shortcomings, to an extent, to injuries, with Craig Bellamy and Lee Bowyer among their absentees, but their followers will have anticipated rather more than this against a team whose principal target this season is said to be Champions' League glory.

Even the controversies were argued half-heartedly. First Joe Cole's 76th-minute goal. A booming clearance from Cudicini, was nodded on by Drogba and Salomon Kalou's header allowed Cole, appearing possibly offside, to round Robert Green and dispatch the winner high into the net. "It [the offside call] was tight," said Curbishley. "I think he [Cole] was perhaps slightly off. But it was the linesman's decision and we have just got to get on with it."

Curbishley's counterpart became about as animated as he ever does, claiming that West Ham had played "an aggressive game" especially in the opening minutes. The managers had already engaged in some pre-match sparring following Curbishley's opinion that officials' decisions favoured the big teams.

That was the precursor to a first half spiced by some uncompromising challenges. Referee Howard Webb dealt benignly with them; perhaps too leniently in the case of Chelsea's John Obi Mikel, who was guilty of an ugly lunge on former Chelsea man Parker. Apparently overlooking that particular indiscretion, Grant insisted: "In the first half we had to be busy reacting to their aggressive game, but in the second half we played our game and went on to win." Curbishley retorted: "There were some tackles, some niggly ones in the first half especially, but we were probably on the end of the two worst ones."

Chelsea created some half-chances after the interval. Wayne Bridge's cross lined up an invitation for Steve Sidwell, but the midfielder saw his attempt deflected wide by Matthew Upson's challenge. Terry also went close before Cole struck his splendid winner. It was one shining beam of illumination on a grey day other than that in Drogba's eyes.